Relief at the pumps

Northeast Ohio motorists are experiencing a reprieve from rising gas prices as they fell almost a nickel to $3.768 per gallon this week, according to AAA Motorists Club.

The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline this week was reported at $3.782, 3.4 cents more expensive than one week ago, 43.5 cents more than one month ago and 9.4 cents more than the average price one year ago.

The recent surge in retail prices has been driven only somewhat by rising crude oil prices and instead has been the product of refinery maintenance and issues.

This has subsequently meant less gasoline being produced and fewer supplies, which has squeezed prices higher.

This year’s refinery maintenance schedule and switch-over to summer-blend gasoline production appears to be more dramatic than in recent years and is taking place earlier than in 2012.

Global demand continues to keep upward pressure on gas prices despite unremarkable domestic demand due to a still recovering economy, high unemployment and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road.

In particular, China, which is the second largest oil-consumer after the U.S., saw crude oil demand hit a record high of 10.62 million barrels in January, which was up 10 percent from the same month in 2012.

Crude oil prices, which had drifted higher but traded in a narrow range to begin 2013, moved lower last week as increased crude oil inventories and bearish economic news weighed on markets.