26 straight days of rising gas prices

A man gets gas at a Shell gas station in San Francisco, Monday, April 11, 2011. With the price of gas above $3.50 a gallon in all but one state, there are signs that Americans are cutting back on driving, reversing a steady increase in demand for fuel as the economy improves. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

April 18, 2011 5:53:10 PM PDT
Gas prices across the country have increased for 26 straight days. According to AAA, the average climbed to $3.83, up 29 cents from a month ago. Analysts expect pump prices to keep climbing this summer.

In California, the average is $4.20 a gallon. Drivers in Oakland and San Jose are paying around $4.21. As is often the case, San Francisco has the most expensive gasoline, topping the Bay Area with $4.26.

"It's a lot. My business fuel expenses have gone up about $400 a month within the last six weeks," says Berkeley contractor Bill Milligan.

Cora Bahl, a working mother from Lafayette, was almost out of gas before she reached the station. It's not the first time she's pushed her luck.

"Oh, I do, and I don't like to fill it all the way because I don't want to see the number," says Bahl. "So I actually fill it just enough to get by and end up coming back."

She's not alone. AAA is finding a lot more drivers are pushing it to the limit and actually running out of gas. Around Los Angeles, about 16,000 people a month are calling for help and the Northern California AAA is also seeing a 26 percent increase in the number of calls from stranded motorists who have run out of gas.

"What you could perhaps draw from all of this is the fact that people are trying to stretch it, when it comes to the gas in their tank, a little bit further than they would normally," says Matt Skryja with Northern California AAA.

Drivers aren't getting any help from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations which just announced they would not be increasing oil production because they claim there's already an oversupply. Unless trouble in Libya and the Middle East disrupts oil shipments, that's essentially true, according to Severin Borenstein at the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

"The Saudis are using that as a reason to produce less oil which isn't very surprising," says Borenstein. "Whenever they have a good excuse to produce less oil, they take advantage of it because the prices go up and they make more money."

A spokesman for the oil and gas industry says station owners, who are mostly independent, need to anticipating possible disruptions in the Mideast.

"They have to make sure they've got enough money in the bank to pay for tomorrow or next week's deliveries of fuel," says Tupper Hull with Western States Petroleum. "So they're often pricing products in a way that is forward-looking."

Borenstein says that even if the Mideast were to stabilize and oil prices were to drop, gasoline prices would also drop, but not as quickly as they go up.

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