Gas prices are up while gas inventories are down. That may mean extra trouble to drivers with just five weeks to go before the summer driving season begins on Memorial Day weekend.
In last eight weeks, gas inventories have dropped 32.8 million barrels, about 10 percent, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Total motor gasoline in the U.S. was 208.1 million barrels for the week ending April 15, a decrease of 7.5 percent from a year ago. Inventory was 240.9 million barrels ending Feb. 4.
While a drop in gas inventories is common this time of year, in part because of more drivers with the warmer weather, this year's decrease is larger than previous years, said Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst with Gasbuddy.com. He said this decrease likely will be a "key driver" in an increase in oil prices, but he does not call that a "huge concern."
"It's not like we're going to wake up tomorrow and run out of gas," he said.
Last week, the average price of gasoline was $3.84 per gallon, up 98 cents from a year ago and 5 cents from the previous week, according to the Department of Energy. That is the highest price for April since the data was collected in 1990. The last time gas rose higher than $3.50 was Sept. 29, 2008, when the weekly average hit $3.63. The last time gas was below $3 a gallon was Dec. 20, 2010, when the average was $2.98.
This week's national average will be released later today.
With runaway gas prices, drivers are turning to tools like Gasbuddy.com and Mapquest.com to find the cheapest gas prices.
Christian Dwyer, general manager of Mapquest, said drivers could use the website's gas calculator to determine whether it is cheaper to drive, fly or use alternative transportation means to reach a destination. And you can use Mapquest's free mobile application for iPhones, Blackberry and Android devices for voice-guided turn by turn directions to reach that gas station.
"You might be a loyal customer and just buy one brand of gas. But as prices rise, we become more price sensitive," Dwyer said.
President Obama certainly has taken notice of the increasing prices, as some poll numbers show rising costs and concerns for the economy may be a factor in his falling poll numbers.
In a town hall in Reno last week, the president said he asked Attorney General Eric Holder to "root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices, and that includes the role of traders and speculators. We're going to make sure that nobody's taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gains."
Holder said in a prepared statement that the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force Working Group will focus on fraud in the energy markets and will include representatives from a "broad range" of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement agencies.
"We will be vigilant in monitoring the oil and gas markets for any wrongdoing so that consumers can be confident they are not paying higher prices as a result of illegal activity," he said in the statement. "If illegal conduct is responsible for increasing gas prices, state and federal authorities should take swift action."