Nation’s average pump price hits $3.07 a gallon, an Energy Department survey finds. The state’s average increases to $3.308 a gallon. Some experts predict crude could hit $100 a barrel in 2011.

Some say oil prices could again hit $100 a barrel in 2011. Above, drivers refuel cars in Chicago. (Frank Polich, Reuters / December 23, 2010)

By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times
January 4, 2011

Oil and gasoline prices began the new year on the same rising course that closed out 2010.

Crude oil for February delivery jumped to $92.66 a barrel, a 26-month high, before settling at $91.55, up 17 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil last settled above $92 a barrel Oct. 3, 2008, when it closed at $93.88.

Higher crude oil costs have been pushing up pump prices since early December. On Monday, the average U.S. pump price climbed 1.8 cents to $3.07 a gallon, according to the Energy Department’s weekly survey of service stations around the U.S. California’s average gained 2.1 cents to $3.308 a gallon.

Analysts differed widely on how high oil might rise in 2011.

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said the commodity would reach a new equilibrium at $90 a barrel this year after spending much of 2010 in a range of $75 to $85 a barrel. Analysts for Natixis Bleichroeder said the average this year would be even higher, about $100 a barrel. Oil last closed above $100 a barrel Sept. 30, 2008, at $100.64.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service, warned that oil speculation and other factors would make this an expensive year at the pump.

“We are looking at the second fuel price apocalypse of the 21st century,” Kloza said. “Money flow is the performance-enhancing drug for prices. A spring peak in the neighborhood of $100 a barrel or higher is likely” for crude oil.

James DiGeorgia, publisher and editor of the Gold and Energy Advisor, predicted oil would reach $101 to $102 a barrel, but he saw it happening as early as next week. For the rest of the year, DiGeorgia said, he expected oil to bounce between $85 and $100 a barrel.

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