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Pump pain worse than normal this spring

Pump pain worse than normal this springA fuel nozzle is shown at a Montreal gas station on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. It's not unusual for gas prices to rise around this time of year, when refineries switch from producing diesel and heating fuel to gasoline. But analysts say there are a few aggravating factors that are making this year's bump especially painful. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

CALGARY - A gasoline price spike is to be expected around this time of year as refineries prepare for the summer driving season, but there are some factors making this year's pre-Victoria Day bump more painful than usual.

The national average was above $1.37 per litre on Wednesday, according to price-tracking website GasBuddy.com — a big jump from last year's $1.23.

Some cities have it worse than others. In Montreal, for instance, prices spiked eight cents between Tuesday and Wednesday to nearly $1.53. Calgarians, meanwhile, enjoyed a relatively cheap $1.22.

GasBuddy co-founder Jason Toews said the national average price has never been this high at this time of year — although it hasn't surpassed the all time record of $1.42 in September, 2008.

"It's largely due to the time of year. We're in spring and on the edge of summer driving season. We always see prices going up around this time of year," he said.

As winter turns to spring, refineries go offline to tweak their equipment. In the winter, they produce more heating fuel, whereas in the summer, they ramp up their gasoline production.

But this year hasn't been typical, said John Kiemele, vice president and chief operating officer at En-Pro International, an Oshawa, Ont.-based firm that advises companies on their energy costs.

This year's extreme winter drew down supplies of heating fuel more than usual, causing refineries to keep running when they'd normally be taken offline, he said.

"If they were to shut down the refinery and do maintenance and start to prepare more gasoline, they would have been in a real dilemma. They wouldn't have had any supply. They needed to keep those refineries running and producing distillates to meet demand," he said.

"So that delayed process of building gasoline inventories for the driving season. That put gasoline inventories in a lower position than we would have liked and that has caused prices to go up."

Another aggravating factor has been the lower loonie, Kiemele added.

"Every time the dollar drops in value, you will see a rise in the price of fuel in Canada because we all deal in U.S. dollars when it comes to energy."

The good news is both Toews and Kiemele see prices mellowing out somewhat after the May long weekend.

"All the gas stations are going to have summer fuel in their tanks and there won't be any supply issues," said Toews.

Motorists are getting more accustomed to pricey fuel. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, drivers were outraged when prices hit $1 per litre.

"It shocked people and it had a big impact on demand for gasoline," Toews said.

"But now a dollar per litre seems cheap. Our perception of what is cheap has changed dramatically."

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