Gas price spike longest on record

Gallon of gas tops $3.22 for 11th straight record high day; 20th day above $3.

By Chris Isidore, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- The 11th straight day of record high gas prices Wednesday resulted in a new measure of pain for the nation's drivers -- the longest stretch of time with gas above $3 a gallon, according a closely-watched daily survey.

And relief is no where in sight heading into the Memorial Day holiday that marks the start of the summer driving season. Prices continue to rise in most of the country, as the Midwest saw prices soar a nickel or more a gallon in one day in several states.

Gas prices have now stayed above $3 a gallon longer than than during any previous gas spike, and relief isn't anywhere in sight.
Gas prices have now stayed above $3 a gallon longer than than during any previous gas spike, and relief isn't anywhere in sight.

The latest reading from AAA Wednesday showed the nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded hit $3.221 a gallon, up from $3.209 on Tuesday.

The motorist group's survey of 85,000 gas stations, by far the broadest sampling of gas prices, has been showing a series of record high prices starting May 13.

The national average has now been above $3 a gallon since May 4, a string of 20 straight days. That passed the 19-day stretch prices stayed above $3 last August, following Israel's invasion of Lebanon that took oil futures higher.

The AAA national average now shows prices up 3.8 percent over the course of the last week, along with an increase of 12.9 percent over the last month.

And higher prices could be on the way during the crucial summer driving season.

AAA warned in congressional testimony last week it believes prices will approach $3.25 a gallon over the next 60 days.

Even with the record gas prices, AAA is predicting a record number of Americans will be hitting the road during the holiday weekend, with 38.3 million expected to be traveling 100 miles or more, up 1.7 percent from a year ago. And most of those - 32.1 million - will be driving, according to the motorist group.

Midwest sees prices soar

For the second day in a row, New Jersey was the only state with an average price below the $3 threshold, but it is edging toward that benchmark, the price there rose to $2.95 from $2.947 on Tuesday.

New Jersey, which has a state gas tax of 14 cents, or about 7 cents less than the national average, got the distinction as the last state with gas below $3 on Tuesday when the average price in New Hampshire and South Carolina crossed the $3 mark for the first time.

Ironically, New Jersey is one of only two states - along with Oregon - where the law mandates full service at every pump.

The fastest rising gas prices are now in the Midwest, where Illinois retained the dubious distinction of the state with the most expensive average price, as the price reading there rose to $3.498 from $3.481 Tuesday.

Michigan saw a nearly 5-cent jump in prices move it into second place at $3.474 from $3.428 on Tuesday. Ohio saw the biggest one-day jump in price in the latest reading, as the average price there rose 6.9 cents, or 2.1 percent to $3.298 from $3.229 on Tuesday. Indiana had the second biggest jump as prices rose 6 cents to $3.409.

California, which had had the highest price through last weekend, saw prices there ease 0.7 cents to $3.442, putting it No. 3 in prices. Prices declined in much of the West, as the states of Nevada, Oregon and Washington also saw modest retreats in prices.

There were a total of nine states where prices declined in the latest reading, with the biggest drop being in Minnesota, where the average fell by 1.3 cents to $3.301. But motorists there will probably be hard-pressed to notice any relief as the average price fell by less than a penny in the other eight states where there was a retreat.

Different regions of the country have to comply with different formulations of gasoline during the summer months in an effort to control smog. That can cause regional spikes as the refineries cut back production of a certain blend due to change over to make the summer formulation, or due to unplanned shutdowns. Recent problems at refineries helping to lift gas prices to record levels have included fires, power outages, and longer-than-usual maintenance periods.

But there is typically a regional retreat in prices once production of the new blend picks up again.

Topping post-Katrina records

Before this recent run of record-high gas prices, the highest price ever recorded in current dollars was $3.057 in the AAA survey, which was set Sept. 4 and Sept. 5, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That storm disrupted refinery operations and pipelines and caused a temporary spike, sending prices above the $3 mark for eight days.

The current price increases are due to problems in gasoline supplies and refinery output. The average gas price went above $3 a gallon on May 4 and has been climbing since.

While crude oil prices have fallen over the last few weeks and oil supplies are high in the United States, problems at several refineries have crimped gasoline output ahead of the summer driving season.

The refinery problems include fires, power outages, and longer-than-usual maintenance periods. Top of page