Average price of gas in state hits $3.98

After a brief respite, the price of gasoline is climbing again.

The national average price for a gallon of gasoline rose a nickel over the weekend and is now $3.80 per gallon. That more than wiped out the penny decline seen last Tuesday through Thursday.

And Washington’s average price rose 4 cents, the AAA auto club reports, with the average price of a gallon of gas in the state now at $3.98. That’s up 46 cents in a month and is 18 cents higher than the national average.

Some metro prices from the AAA’s Monday survey of Washington:

Seattle-Bellevue-Everett $4.05, Bellingham $4.08, Bremerton $3.98, Tacoma $4.02, Olympia $4.03, Vancouver $4.02, Yakima $3.83, Tri-Cities $3.76 and Spokane $3.67.

The average pump price has risen 52 cents this year as refineries and wholesalers pass along the higher cost of crude oil. Oil is up about 8 percent since Jan. 1.

Experts say the nationwide average could rise as high as $4.25 by late April. Besides high oil prices, a switch in the type of gasoline that drivers put in their tanks will drive the price higher.

Supplies of gas tend to fall in April as refineries sell off their existing gasoline to make room for a different blend that’s required in the summer to meet clean-air laws. That shortage, plus the higher price for the summer gas, typically boosts the nationwide average. And demand rises as the weather gets warmer.

Prices tend to peak in late April or early May. The nationwide average hit a high in 2011 of $3.98 on May 5.

Besides Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New York, Michigan, Connecticut and the District of Columbia are paying prices around the $4 mark. Drivers in Hawaii are paying the most at $4.44 per gallon. By contrast, those in Wyoming are paying the least at $3.30 per gallon. Prices vary throughout the U.S. due to differing state taxes, transportation costs and other regional expenses.

The recent jump in prices has made gasoline a major topic of debate during the presidential campaign. Republican candidates have criticized President Obama for not doing enough to keep prices under control. Obama has countered that Republicans are ignoring steps his administration has taken to increase energy security, and that they’re offering unrealistic solutions to a global pricing problem.

In his weekly address, Obama said that domestic oil production has increased to an eight-year high under his watch. He also stressed that America must find ways to reduce oil consumption — not simply drill for more.

“With only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices,” Obama said. “Not when we consume 20 percent of the world’s oil.”

Americans apparently have their doubts. A poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post from March 7 to March 10 found 65 percent disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation with gas prices.

Oil prices fell Monday after Chinese trade data suggested a weakening global economy. China reported a slowdown in growth in both imports and exports in its February trade data over the weekend.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate gave up $1.06 to end at $106.34 per barrel in New York. Brent crude fell by 64 cents to end at $125.34 per barrel in London.

Natural gas dipped to a new 10-year low, falling by 5.5 cents to end at $2.27 per 1,000 cubic feet. Natural gas prices have plummeted this year thanks to a recent boom in production and weak heating demand this winter.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell by 2 cents to finish at $3.24 per gallon and gasoline futures gave up nearly a penny to end at $3.32 per gallon.

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