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Low-octane pain at Manatee pumps

As motorists take to the roads this Memorial Day weekend, they’re going to be paying more than in recent months to fill up their vehicles.

But they shouldn’t feel too bad, says Bill Diamond, Bradenton-Lakewood Ranch district manager for AAA.

That’s because they are still paying close to $1.50 per gallon less than this time a year ago.

Locally, the average price of a gallon of gas at the end of April was $2.07.

Currently, the average price is $2.37.

But Diamond said the average price of a gallon of gas this time last year was $3.83.

“So, as much as we dislike seeing this increase, it’s still considerably less — almost a dollar fifty a gallon less than it was a year ago,” Diamond says.

Even so, the uptick in gas prices is nothing new, and all comes down to supply and demand, says Bill Holbrook, spokesman for the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.

“The forces of supply and demand dictate the price of fuels in the marketplace,” Holbrook says. “As peak driving season approaches, every year around this time, demand usually increases. When demand increases, that sends a signal to the markets.”

Diamond said an increase also typically happens around this time of year as refiners switch over from processing winter heating fuels to fuel for vehicles.

“It does traditionally cause a summer rise in prices,” Diamond said.

Others have blamed speculators for the sudden rise in fuel.

Conventional supply and demand forces in markets are not driving the recent climb in crude oil prices, a rise of more than 70 percent since mid-January to a six-month high above $61 a barrel on Wednesday.

Oil again is becoming a Wall Street hedge against price movements in other markets, and the end result is Americans paying more at the gas pumps, industry-watchers say.

But the extra 30 cents or so drivers may be paying per gallon of gas while heading on their vacations this weekend will likely not deter travel, Diamond said.

In fact, AAA estimates that 32.4 million motorists — 1.5 percent more than last year — will make trips of 50 miles or more this Memorial Day weekend.

— McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.

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