ANDERSON — While her kids are looking forward to scary amusement park rides this summer, Amy Jones is worried about scary gas prices.
Jones, her fiance and three sons are planning a road trip to Kings Island, which is a 150-mile trip. But if she has to shell out close to $4 a gallon for gas like last summer, she said, "they're going to have to dig in their pockets, if they still want to go."
"We're driving my truck," she said, fueling up at a Ricker's station in downtown Anderson. "We'll use a lot (of gas)."
But $4 gas isn't likely to happen this summer — at least not in the Midwest, according to Purdue University agricultural economist, Wally Tyner.
He's calling for regional gas prices between $3.50 and $3.90 per gallon over the next few months, slightly lower than in summer 2012.
"That certainly could change if something unforeseen happens," he said, such as some significant world event or a refinery outage. "But I don't expect prices over $4, except on the West Coast."
That's good news for Jones and millions of others planning to hit the road between May and August, the busiest travel months, according to Quinn Ricker, president of Ricker's fuel.
And it's good news for Ricker's, too.
"We want lower fuel prices," he said. "When prices are lower, credit card fees are lower and people drive more. We make more money when the price is lower vs. higher. The public would probably assume the opposite."
This summer, AAA estimates the average road-tripping family will travel 600 to 700 miles from home. If your family car gets an average 20 miles per gallon, Tyner's projections could mean a round-trip gas tab as low as $210.
As far as Jones is concerned, that sounds pretty good. "That ($3.50 per gallon) is low enough to say 'let's go,'" she said.
The drop in gas prices, Tyner said, are likely due to increased production and lower demand, because of more fuel-efficient cars, which could drive down the cost of crude oil.
"We're increasing production much faster now, and production is growing faster than consumption for the first time since 2009," he said. "That means OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) countries — particularly Saudi Arabia — have spare capacity and aren't producing as much."
The Midwest is also ramping up production and upgrading technology, especially in Indiana. The state's home to the sixth-largest refinery in the U.S. — BP's operation in Whiting, Ind., right on the southwestern Lake Michigan shoreline near Gary.
BP's investing several billion dollars to modernize the facility, including making it better-able to process heavier crude oil from Canada. In the short term, the renovations are restricting production and "making gasoline supply in the Midwest very tight causing prices to be higher than they should be," Ricker said. "There is more demand than there is supply in the Midwest."
Last week, a gallon of regular would have cost Midwesterners about $3.78, up 18 cents from this time last year.
But in the long term, technology upgrades "will be fantastic for the Midwest," Ricker said. "We should have some of the lowest prices in the country. The Midwest's refiners will be able to refine some the cheapest crude in the world from areas that are friendly to us," meaning plenty of gasoline pumping into central Indiana, likely driving down prices.
If and when that happens, drivers like Jones won't be complaining.
"I'd love to pay less," she said. "I think we all would."
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Cost per regular gallon in the Midwest Average cost last week: $3.78 Predicted costs May-August: $3.50-$3.90 Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Purdue University