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Gas averages $3 a gallon in state, though lower prices found in Merced

Sylvia Smith, 62, of Atwater finishes filling her tank at the Valero gas station at Shaffer Road and Bellevue Road in Atwater. As of Tuesday, the average price for regular in the Merced area is $2.89, according to AAA. That was up by 4 cents from a week ago, and up 16 cents from a month ago, it said.
Sylvia Smith, 62, of Atwater finishes filling her tank at the Valero gas station at Shaffer Road and Bellevue Road in Atwater. As of Tuesday, the average price for regular in the Merced area is $2.89, according to AAA. That was up by 4 cents from a week ago, and up 16 cents from a month ago, it said. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The average retail price of gas in California hit $3 a gallon Tuesday for the first time since Sept. 26, 2015, according to national gas price tracker GasBuddy.com.

Motorists in the Merced area, however, could still find fuel below that mark, according to surveys.

Gas prices have been rising steadily for more than a month, which GasBuddy attributed to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cutting oil production. OPEC agreed Nov. 30 to cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels a day in 2017.

“With OPEC’s production cuts boosting oil prices and the typical seasonal factors pushing gas prices higher, California’s average gas price has hit $3 per gallon and will likely continue moving higher,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst. “It’s likely average prices could rise another 20 to 40 cents per gallon over the next few months, making it the most painful spring and summer at the pump in years.”

DeHaan said the seasonal transition of refineries producing pricier spring-summer gas blends will lead to higher prices for drivers in the weeks ahead.

GasBuddy said Southern California has begun the spring-summer blend transition and will complete it by April 1. Areas of Central California are expected to complete the transition by May 1, and areas of Northern California will do it by June 1.

As of Tuesday, the average price for regular in the Merced area was $2.89, according to AAA. That was up by 4 cents from a week ago, and up 16 cents from a month ago, it said.

The average at-the-pump price in the Merced area one year ago was $2.28 a gallon, according to AAA.

Motorists throughout California enjoyed unusually low gas prices throughout most of 2016, a combination of ample fuel supplies, low crude oil prices and relatively few disruptions at in-state refineries.

Merced Sun-Star Staff contributed to this report.

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