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Warning: $4 gas on horizon

  • Gas prices at the Valero station on Oakmont Drive on Wednesday, December 29, 2010.

Gasoline at $4 a gallon by Memorial Day? At $5 in 2012?

With pump prices well over $3 a gallon at year's end for just the second time in a decade, experts say those angst-inducing scenarios might be accurate.

"It certainly looks that way," said Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, regarding the prospect of a national average price of $3.75 to $4 by the of May. "I could easily see that."

With California prices typically 20 to 40 cents more a gallon than the national average, DeHaan's forecast would put the Golden State in a $4-plus range it hasn't seen since 2008.

And $5 gas may be inevitable, but experts disagree on how soon it will come, saying that factors ranging from consumer behavior to war in Korea could make a difference.

On Wednesday, a gallon of regular gas averaged $3.31 in California, and a penny higher in Santa Rosa, where an informal survey found pump prices ranging from $3.22 to $3.50.

Only once before in the past decade has a year ended with such expensive gas: in December, 2007 when the California Energy Commission reported a statewide average of $3.30.

The following year, in 2008, gas in California made its unprecedented surge to $4.59 in mid-June, then nosedived to $1.81 by the end of 2008.

This also is the only year in the past 10 in which California gas prices peaked in December.

Gas dipped below $3 in late September this year, and has edged up fairly steadily ever since. Santa Rosa's average of $3.32 on Wednesday was up 13 cents from a month ago and 41 cents higher than a year earlier.

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