How high will they go?
Some experts are talking $4, even $5 a gallon.
But Tom Kloza, chief analyst of the Oil Price Information Service, says $3.75 is more like it. And while that's hardly reason to cheer, it still wouldn't eclipse the record average price of $4.11 in July 2008.
What's going on?
"It's really part of the economic recovery," Kloza told "Early Show on Saturday Morning" co-anchor Russ Mitchell, "and the price of crude oil internationally is going up, because somewhere around May or June of 2010, the world started to use a little bit more crude than it was producing. And that's basically continued. And that, together with an awful lot of money flowing into commodities (markets) and into oil (sold on those markets) in general, has really pushed the price of crude up. The price of international crude right now is about $100 a barrel."
Over the next few months, Kloza says, "I think we'll get a little bit of a break while (the thermometer) stays in the single temperatures. … People cocoon when it's very, very cold. But we should be dropping right now. And we're not. So I would suspect that we'll probably see some peak prices in the spring of between $3.50, $3.75, maybe a little higher, maybe a little lower in some of the edges or whatever. But the second-highest prices for any year on record."
So the record price $4.11 isn't in the offing?
"I know there's a lot of predictions out there right now from $4 to $5 a gallon," Kloza noted. "I think that's more hyperbole. and I think the memory of what happened in 2008, when we went to $150 for crude and $4.11 for gasoline and then went into the greatest economic recession of our lifetime, is too fresh. So I think we'll get into the upper-threes. People will be talking about it. It will be apocalyptic. But it's not going to be as bad as it was in 2008."
And, "I think if we go to $5, it will be episodic and it will be after the election in 2012."
The higher prices are already reining in the economic recovery "to some extent," Kloza says. "If you're talking about the consumer level and people who live from paycheck to paycheck, it really hurts. … The average person uses about 600 gallons of gas a year. A dollar more for that is about $600. So it has an impact on consumption, and it's even more than the actual expenses: People feel bad when they see the high price of gas, because it's in their face every day."
Motorists, Kloza observed, "need to make good choices out what kind of vehicles they drive. If you watched … the football (playoff) games in the last few weeks, you saw a ton of ads for trucks and SUVs. We don't really need those."