Gas prices rose for the 22nd straight day on Wednesday, even as evidence grew that drivers are using less fuel.
Drivers nationwide are now paying an average of $3.73 for a gallon of gas. That's 30 cents higher than a month ago and 36 cents higher than the same time last year.
Consumers have cut back on driving this year as the price of gas increased by 45 cents a gallon. The Energy Department said Wednesday that average petroleum demand fell last week by 6.2 percent. Gasoline demand dropped by 6.7 percent when compared with the same period a year ago. As demand falls, supplies are growing faster than many experts expected.
The government said that inventories of crude oil rose by 4.2 million barrels last week. Analysts were expecting an increase of just 1 million barrels.
Oil fell on that report, although they recovered in the afternoon. There's still a chance that lower prices this week could translate into a temporary dip at the gas pump _ oil dropped 3 percent Monday and Tuesday. But most experts still predict the average price will rise over the next several weeks, eventually topping $4.
"We're getting a little break," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. "Within the next few days, you might see prices stay flat, or even a drop here and there, but the trend is still up."
Kloza expects the nationwide average to go as high as $4.25 per gallon by late April.
West Texas Intermediate, which is used to price oil produced in the U.S., rose 52 cents to $107.07 a barrel. Brent crude, which is used to price international oil, gained 69 cents to $122.24 in London. Traders said the late buying may be tied to the continued standoff between the West and Iran over that country's nuclear program.
Gasoline futures on the NYMEX rose 3.2 cents to $3.2572 a gallon. They're still down nearly 2 percent this week but are on track to finish February with a gain of 13 percent.
In other energy trading, natural gas futures rose 8.3 cents to $2.71 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil fell by 1.4 cents to $3.206 a gallon.