Area gas prices skyrocket, nearing $4 a gallon

Motorists are starting to get worried about the possibility that the price of gas could rise as high as $5 per gallon within the next few weeks throughout the area.

Punxsutawney gas prices skyrocketed 16 cents per gallon this week, said Bevi Powell, communications director for East Central AAA.

The average price for a gallon of self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline has risen to $3.53 per gallon, she said.
Powell said it is hard to predict if the price of gas will actually rise to $5 per gallon.

She said this is the time of year when gas prices typically begin to rise, as refineries begin to switch to the "summer blends."
Summer blends are required by the EPA, and are more expensive to manufacture.

When the oil companies switch over to the summer blends, the refineries close down for routine maintenance.

The EPA requires that the oil companies switch to the summer blends in order to protect the ozone layer as those fuels burn a little cleaner in the summertime.

Powell said the switchover occurs just as the demand is increasing.

"When you couple that with the Middle East situation, we definitely do not see any positive news on the horizon for motorists as we enter into the summer driving season," Powell said.

Compared with last year, she said, oil prices averaged $82 per barrel; Monday, the price of crude oil was hovering around $106 per barrel.

Oil prices have increased over $20 per barrel since the middle of February.

Powell said Punxsutawney's average price for a gallon of gas this week is $3.53 per gallon, while the average last week was $3.37 which is an increase of 16 cents in one week.

"That's a pretty significant jump in just one week," Powell said, adding that this is one of the largest increases ever.

Powell said that by comparison, in February, the average price for a gallon of gas in Punxsy was $3.19 per gallon.

The reason for the increase, she said, is the concern that the political unrest that's occurring in Libya may spread to other countries that supply oil to the U.S.

Libya currently produces 1.6 million barrels of oil per day, Powell said, adding that it was the world's 15th largest exporter of oil, which is why the political unrest that is occurring is so significant.

Powell said it's hard to predict whether or not prices will rise to $5 per gallon.

The highest price for fuel in western Pennsylvania was $4.05 per gallon in 2008, when oil prices were $150 per barrel.

The motoring public seems to be OK with the increases, just so long as the price of gas goes down again, according to Powell.

"When the price of gas goes down off of the high prices that have occurred, I think people are relieved when they see it going the other direction," she said.

The highest gas price in the country is $3.89 per gallon in California and the cheapest is $3.18 per gallon in Montana.

Powell said in this region, the average price in Pennsylvania is $3.49 per gallon; Ohio is at $3.46 per gallon; New York state is at $3.70 per gallon; and West Virginia is at $3.55 per gallon.

The average price of gas in the U.S. as of Monday was $3.50 per gallon.

"The supply is fine — it's the market analysts who are concerned with the possible disruption of the supply, which is what drives the price up," Powell said.

She added that the concern of a potential impact on the region’s oil production drove prices higher by $7.37 — or nearly nine percent — per barrel to start the week, and had analysts discussing the possible impact on global supply.

Powell said that AAA has seen increases in the price of gas every day since the situation began in the Middle East.

"So, we'll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings regarding the price of gas," Powell said.