By MARK WILLIAMS
AP Energy Writer
Motorists are well down the road to higher pump prices as warmer weather and the driving season approaches.
Average retail gasoline prices, continuing a surge that started last month, have now matched their 2010 high on the way to prices that many analysts believe will top $3 per gallon this spring.
The nationwide average retail gasoline price rose 0.6 cents Monday to $2.753 per gallon, virtually identical to the high water mark of $2.7583 reached on Jan. 14, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.
Prices have risen 9.2 cents in the last month and are now 80.6 cents higher than levels of a year ago.
The Energy Information Administration, which is among those predicting $3 gallon gas this spring, will release figures on nationwide retail gasoline prices later Monday.
The jump in retail prices follows an increase in wholesale gasoline prices. April contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 1.77 cents to $2.2887 per gallon. Friday's settlement price of $2.271 per gallon was the highest settlement price for gasoline since Oct. 1, 2008, according to Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover.
An 18 percent rise in oil prices over the past month that pushed crude near a 2010 high of $83.95 per barrel is also boosting gas prices.
Part of the increase in gasoline prices is seasonal. Prices typically go up in the spring as refiners switch to more expensive blends of gasoline. Demand usually picks up as motorists emerge from hibernation and hit the road.
But things may be different this year. The U.S. remains well supplied with gasoline and oil, so there is no prospect of a supply shortage driving up prices. Also, the high unemployment rate and uncertainty about the economic recovery have kept demand for gasoline about where it was a year ago.
Benchmark crude for April delivery rose 44 cents to $81.94 a barrel on the Nymex. Earlier in the session, it peaked at $82.41. The contract rose $1.29 to settle at $81.50 on Friday.
In other trading in April contracts, heating oil rose 1.10 cents to $2.1084 a gallon. Natural gas fell 8.7 cents to $4.506 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In London, Brent crude gained 52 cents at $80.41 on the ICE futures exchange.
Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi and Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.