NEW YORK — Gas prices jumped Friday to their highest level since June, a possible preview of what many analysts believe will be a record spike in pump prices this spring.
But the current price surge could be short-lived. While gasoline has risen sharply in recent days in response to oil's dramatic climb to a new record above $101 a barrel, gas supplies have quietly grown to their highest level in 14 years.
"We've got a major supply cushion," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Ill.
At the pump, gas prices rose 2.9 cents overnight to a national average of $3.115 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. That was the highest since June 8.
At the same time, March gasoline futures rose 1.17 cents to settle at $2.5337 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Meanwhile, light, sweet crude for April delivery rose 58 cents to settle at $98.81 a barrel on concerns about potential supply disruptions and cold weather.
Many analysts believe gas prices will rise this spring to new records near $3.75 or $4 a gallon. But not everyone agrees.
Ritterbusch, for example, thinks the high level of supplies, and an eventual decline in oil prices, will pull pump prices down. He doubts prices will rise as high as $3.75 without a major overseas supply disruption or domestic refinery outage.
But Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J., argues that while gasoline prices won't rise as much this spring as they have in previous years, they are starting from a much higher level. Indeed, prices at the moment are 83 cents higher than a year ago. That means retail prices could peak between $3.50 and $3.75 a gallon, Kloza said, well above May's record of $3.227 a gallon.
The Energy Department's latest forecast calls for gas prices to peak near $3.40 a gallon this spring.
Of course, gasoline prices also respond to oil futures. Oil has traded in a band between about $86 and $100 a barrel for months, a trend many analysts expect to continue throughout the year. That will likely keep gas prices oscillating in their own narrow band around $3 a gallon for most of the year.
Oil prices rose Friday on word Turkish troops pursued separatist Kurdish rebels into northern Iraq. Concerns that the Kurds would retaliate against Turkish attacks last fall by sabotaging oil shipments out of Iraq had much to do with oil's rise to $100, analysts said.
Word that the key Houston Shipping Channel was closed to oil tankers and other ships for the second day in a row also gave oil traders reason to buy.
Other energy futures also rose Friday. March heating oil futures jumped 2.49 cents to settle at $2.763 a gallon on the Nymex and March natural gas futures rose 25.5 cents to settle at $9.146 per 1,000 cubic feet. Both contracts were being pushed higher by the winter storm pounding the Northeast.
In London, April Brent crude futures rose 77 cents to settle at $97.01 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.