CLEVELAND -- Ohio motorists are getting a sinking feeling as they pull up to the pumps this week. Gas prices are way up and now are hovering around $4 a gallon.
Rising oil prices amid fears about refinery problems in the Great Lakes have pushed pump prices up over the dreaded $4 mark at some stations across the state. Others are almost there.
According to auto club AAA, the state average for a gallon of regular gas was $3.93 on Thursday, an increase of 9 cents from Wednesday and 27 cents higher than a week ago. Meanwhile, the national average Thursday was $3.63, up just 2 cents from a week ago.
In Portage County, Speedway generally sets prices, but the apparent high price was at a Sunoco station at East Main Street and Horning Road in Kent, posting gas prices starting at $4.09 per gallon. Other stations in the Tree City were about 20 cents cheaper. Unlike the other stations in town, nobody was pulled up to the Sunoco pumps early Thursday evening.
Speedway stations in Brimfield and Rootstown posted prices of $3.99. Stations neighboring the Rootstown Speedway had lowered their prices a few cents. In Ravenna, most stations were still posting prices of $3.69, which gasbuddy.com stated were among the lowest in the Akron area.
The highest average Thursday in Ohio was $3.97 in the Columbus area.
Prices tend to be higher in the summer anyway because of increased demand and the switch to less-expensive winter-blend gas. Now there are other factors at work, too.
An analyst told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer the supply of gasoline has been unstable in the Great Lakes region, where two large refineries are either partly or fully shut down for maintenance.
Ohio gets most of its gasoline from the Chicago spot market, which is known for dramatic price swings, according to AAA Ohio. Refineries in Witing, Ind., and Joliet, Ill., have been offline for maintenance recently, which has led to tight supplies. Last week, the region's refining capacity dropped to a three-year low.
Restarting the refineries should ease supply concerns in the region, but there's no way to tell how soon that could ease the price at the pump.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with Gas Buddy, a division of the Oil Price Information Service, said refinery problems are making the Great Lakes region's wholesale prices "bipolar."
"My wholesale prices are wacky," said Patrick LaVecchia, a filling station owner in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River and spokesman for the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers, which represents some 5,000 member stations in Ohio and Michigan.
By contrast, the average price Thursday in neighboring Pennsylvania was $3.48. But in Michigan, it was $4.23. In Indiana, it was $4.12.
The highest recorded average price for a gallon of regular gas in Ohio was around $4.16 in May 2011, according to AAA.