Filling 'er up suddenly costly

Maybe it was just too much wishful thinking when we speculated a couple of weeks ago that Tacoma gas prices had hit their summertime peak and were beginning a gradual downturn.

While we weren’t looking, gas prices in the South Sound headed upward again. Average prices for unleaded regular Tuesday were $2.845. That’s 11 cents more than last week at this time and 11 cents more than a month ago. In Olympia, a gallon averages $2.863, up about 10 cents from last week and 9 cents from a month ago, according to AAA.

Of course, these prices still seem a bargain for anyone who experienced 2008’s rapid price escalations. A year ago, according to AAA, gas was selling for $3.99 in the Tacoma area and $4 in Olympia.

The trend is true across the state and nation. In Seattle, average unleaded gas prices jumped more than 7 cents week to week.

Washington’s average prices for regular rose to the fourth highest in the nation this week at $2.854. The state was behind only California, Alaska and Hawaii, all of which have average prices over $3 a gallon.

The nation’s cheapest gas is in South Carolina where average prices are $2.407 a gallon.

Nationwide, average prices have increased 19 cents a gallon in the last three weeks. Analysts expect present prices are near the summer peak.

As for the oil market: Energy prices slumped Tuesday on a Labor Department report that suggested consumer spending, a major economic driver, may be depressed for some time.

Benchmark crude for September delivery fell $1.15 to settle at $69.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the fourth straight day of declines.

Oil prices have ended the week higher for five straight weeks, a period that coincides with earnings reports from U.S. companies. The results appeared surprisingly healthy, which gave energy prices a boost on the belief that the recession had loosened its grip.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

The Associated Press contributed to this report.