WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) said this week it still doesn’t expect the U.S. average retail price for regular grade gasoline to reach $3 per gallon in 2006. “While some stations have already posted prices for regular gasoline that exceed $3 per gallon and it is certainly possible that average retail prices across the country could reach that level sometime this year, EIA is not forecasting prices that high, on average, over a whole month,” the department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in its weekly report. “Our forecast assumes that there are no major problems in U.S. refineries, pipelines, or any part of the distribution chain. It also assumes that no additional oil production disruptions occur overseas.” The EIA went on to explain the main factors behind the current high prices: a reduction in gasoline production because a significant amount of refinery capacity is now offline; three Gulf Coast refineries are just now beginning to return to operation; some refineries undamaged by the hurricanes postponed planned maintenance to maximize short-term production. Compared to weekly data in 2005, gasoline production for the most recent four-week period is down 457,000 barrels a day, while gasoline demand has risen slightly compared to last year, the EIA said. “As a result,” the EIA said, “finished gasoline inventories have been pulled down sharply, dropping more than 20 million barrels over the past four weeks, despite large volumes of imports. However, as the refineries return to full operation, gasoline production should increase, thus adding much needed supply into the system.”