Energy Secretary James D. Watkins said Friday that retail gasoline prices, which in recent days have jumped to their highest levels in three years, are likely to return soon to "normal seasonal levels."

Watkins issued an unusual public statement he said was prompted by consumer reaction to gasoline price rises following last month's Alaska oil spill."Many consumers have begun questioning the adequacy of the nation's supply of crude oil," Watkins said, adding that the loss of crude oil as a result of the March 24 spill was 13 million barrels, or about 17 hours of national consumption.

"Supplies are not threatened," Watkins said. "Shortages have not occurred."

Shipments of Alaskan North Slope crude from the port of Valdez were temporarily curtailed after the spill, but the flow this week returned to normal.

Gasoline price increases have been largest on the West Coast, which is the main destination of Alaskan crude. Nationally, the average price of a gallon of gasoline rose 10 percent, to $1.10, in the last month, according to the Lundberg Survey, a Los Angeles publication that checks prices at 12,000 gasoline stations nationwide.

Analysts mostly attribute the price increases to higher crude oil prices and widespread anticipation that gasoline supplies will be squeezed by an increase in summer auto travel.

Watkins said an additional key factor has been the imposition of state and federal rules that reduce gasoline vapor emissions but increase refining costs. He said the effect on the market of the Alaskan spill was more imagined than real.