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Impact of oil price surge to be muted at pumps

Oil industry analysts say rising crude prices will trickle down to the gasoline pumps, but not nearly as hard as it once might have.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/File 2013

Oil industry analysts say rising crude prices will trickle down to the gasoline pumps, but not nearly as hard as it once might have.

The threat of a military strike against Syria pushed crude oil prices past $110 a barrel earlier this week for the first time in nearly 2½ years.

The price increase will hit gasoline pumps soon, industry analysts say, but not nearly as hard as it once might have. Buffering the blow is the surge in domestic oil production and increase in US refining capacity to handle new supplies from North American shale fields.

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The end of the busy summer driving season also will help, as gas prices typically drop after the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“The combination of those factors seems to suggest that the pump price spike might only be 20 cents from this event,” said Phil Flynn, an oil analyst with the Price Futures Group in Chicago. “Once it might have been 50 cents to $1.”

Though Syria is not a major oil producer, Flynn said he expects crude prices to continue to rise to $115 or $117 a barrel on the threat of a military strike against the country, which is located near major oil-producing nations.

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“They’re on the borderline of Iraq, they’re by Egypt, they’re by Jordan, they’re by Israel,” Flynn said. “Can you think of a major oil producer in the world that doesn’t have a side in this thing right now? You really can’t.”

So far, however, the jump in oil prices has not hit consumers in Massachusetts. A gallon of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $3.62 a gallon this week, down 9 cents during the last month and 11 cents cheaper than the state’s average gas price at this time last year, according to AAA Southern New England, a branch of the American Automobile Association.

It typically takes about two weeks for changes in crude prices to reach the pumps.

Officials at AAA said they do not expect gas prices to be a major factor in travel this Labor Day weekend, as average national gas prices through mid-August were down nearly 3 percent compared with last year, when gas prices hit a record for the holiday.

Energy Department analysts also said this year’s end of summer gas prices are lower than they have been for the past two years.

Analysts say prices at the pump will eventually rise as much as 20 cents a gallon as a result of possible military action against Syria, but many do not expect the increase to last. Oil prices retreated late this week after the British Parliament voted against a military attack on Syria and the possibility of an immediate US strike appeared to lessen. On Friday, oil closed at $107.65 cents a barrel, off $1.15 from Thursday.

“If the situation escalates, oil prices will go a little higher, but when things settle down, they’ll go back down,” said Chris G. Christopher Jr., director of global and US consumer markets for the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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