WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. consumers could pay record gasoline prices for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday with pump costs expected to climb another 20 cents over the next two to three weeks, the government's top energy forecaster warned on Monday.
Guy Caruso, who heads the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said not all of the recent jump in crude oil prices has been reflected in motor fuel costs which now top $3 a gallon in many parts of the country, about 80 cents more than a year ago.
"We haven't seen the full pass-through (of high oil prices) yet," Caruso told reporters at a briefing on oil market conditions held at Energy Department headquarters. "I would say what's in the pipe right now (for gasoline) is about another 20 cents."
If the projected gasoline price materializes it would be the most consumers have ever paid to fill up at Thanksgiving and could break the all-time high of $3.22 a gallon set last May.
The national average retail pump price has already jumped by 25 cents since mid-October, reflecting soaring crude oil costs, which for U.S. oil hit a record $98.62 a barrel last week.
The price of crude accounts for about half the cost of making gasoline.
So far, healthy gasoline imports from Europe and weaker driving demand for this time of the year has helped soften some of the price spike, Caruso said.
Caruso said high prices are the result of strong global oil demand and tight supplies. "There's very little cushion in the market ... consumption outpacing production," he said. "We've seen steadily declining (oil) inventories."
OPEC ministers are scheduled to meet in early December to review their oil policy. Karen Harbert, the assistant energy secretary for policy and international affairs, said the Bush administration has not received any messages from OPEC officials on whether the group will increase output.
"We hope they will take action when it's necessary to ensure there is a much more calm and mutually beneficial (oil) marketplace," she told reporters at the same briefing.
Caruso warned that if the group does not boost oil production levels, crude oil prices will stay "well above" $80 a barrel and push gasoline costs higher during next spring's busy driving season.
Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Washington, editing by Matthew Lewis