Drivers in Chicago are seeing a painful rise in gas prices get even worse this month.
The average price of regular unleaded in the Chicago metro area on Tuesday is $3.93, according to AAA. That's up 12 cents from a week ago. A month ago, the average was $3.42. Statewide, the average is about $3.79, up 8 cents from last week and 46 cents last month.
Prices are rising at pumps across the country, too, but not as dramatically. The national average is $3.60, up about 7 cents from a week ago and 30 cents higher than this time last month.
It's not typical to see gas price spikes at this time of year. Demand is typically low and picks up in the spring before driving season. And in general, gas is cheaper to produce in the winter because refineries can use less expensive blends.
The main reason for the spike is the higher price of crude oil. The price of oil has gone from around $85 a barrel in December to around $97 now because of improving economic certainty as the country moved past the election and the fiscal cliff deadline, according to energy analyst Phil Flynn. It's also being driven by better-than-expected growth in China, the world's second largest economy.
Prices in the Chicago area are typically some the highest in the nation, but the cost of a local fill-up is accelerating at almost double the national rate.
Flynn attributes this to a number of refinery issues in the region. Some scheduled maintenance at refineries -- where gasoline and other products are produced from oil -- occurred earlier than usual, which cut off some supply, affecting prices. Many close at this time of year to start the switchover to lower-emission summer blends of gasoline.
Besides a major overhaul of BP's Whiting refinery, the largest supplier of gasoline to Midwest markets, that's believed to be driving prices higher, a fire temporarily shut down a refinery in northwest Ohio.
AAA, which tracks daily gasoline prices around the country, predicts they will continue their rapid climb as local refinery issues continue into the beginning of peak driving season.
Flynn is more optimistic.
He believes that once the major Whiting refinery overhaul is complete later this year, gas prices will stabilize.
"I'm probably in the minority but I think we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
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