Today at the Pump; Gas prices are 7 cents more than they were last year and continue to rise.

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The Today Show (NBC-TV National)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And now to TODAY AT THE PUMP. This morning the American Automobile
Association (AAA) reports that the national average for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.99 a gallon. That is up 29 cents from just one month ago and it is 7 cents more than this time last year. So who’s being hit the hardest? Drivers in California, where the average price is $3.43. Ouch. In San Francisco they’re shelling out $3.56. Double ouch. And if you’re looking for a bargain, consider filling up in New Jersey or South Carolina. The average in those places, $2.81. And in New Jersey’s Atlantic City and Cape May areas, they’re only paying $2.78. So where are prices headed from here? More now from NBC’s Michael Okwu.

MICHAEL OKWU reporting: At the nation’s gas pumps, pain. There’s been no other way too describe it
for weeks.

Mr. MAX DAY (California Driver): I mean, for $100, $200 a week we just simply can’t afford it.

OKWU: With average gas prices now hovering around $3 a gallon nationwide, we’re just 7 cents shy of the record and it’s only May, a full two months before the peak driving season when prices typically spike.

Mr. DEZI GREGORY (Atlanta Driver): It’s been, like, one morning I woke up and the gas prices jumped up like 30, 40 cents.

OKWU: Again, the West Coast has been hit especially hard, well above the national average. At this downtown Los Angeles gas station, motorists are shelling out more than $3.75 a gallon.

Ms. JUDY DUGAN (Research Director, At the rate gasoline is going up now, I think $4 is very likely, at least in the West.

OKWU: Despite the hike in gas prices, demand is still increasing, so prices are climbing, with refineries not pumping out enough product. And experts say it’s going to get worse before it gets better as demand increases this summer.

Mr. DAVID HACKETT (President, Stillwater Associates): What happens in August when demand is really strong? Everybody’s on vacation, everybody’s driving. It’s August that we think that we’ll see even higher gasoline prices than we see today.

OKWU: But industry watchdogs say the oil companies are gouging consumers by indirectly controlling the supply.

Ms. DUGAN: They control how big their refineries are. They control how much comes out of their refineries. They control when they do maintenance.

OKWU: Regardless, experts say prices could also rocket even higher if refinery operations are interrupted by the hurricane season, now just weeks away. Consumers are watching, wearily.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, I think it could go sky’s the limit.

OKWU: For TODAY, Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.

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