With gas prices as high as they are, the situation has become almost laughable. It was enough to inspire pranksters to modify a gas station price to read LOL, alluding to the surprise that commuters often feel when they fill up at the pump.
In the U.S., how much pain at the pump drivers feel may depend on three factors: location, location, and location. In Orlando, Fla., two gas stations that are the closest to the airport, and across the street from each other, are selling regular at $5.29 and $5.19 a gallon.
After the biggest one-week rise in oil prices in two years, weekly gas prices increased 6 percent this week, according to the Department of Energy. The national average is $3.38 per gallon, an increase of 19 cents over the previous week and 68 cents from the previous year. The average price in California, one of the most expensive states, is $3.72 per gallon. The least expensive gas is in the Rocky Mountain region: $3.18 a gallon.
Oil prices around the country continued to soar today, buffeted by uncertainty in the Middle East. Crude oil futures settled at $102.23 a barrel in New York today, up $2.60 from Tuesday. This is the first time oil settled above $100 since September 2008. Although unrest in Libya has not yet significantly disrupted global oil supply, analysts say the markets are still concerned contagion will affect supplies in the top oil exporters in the world, like Algeria, Iran, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Crude oil production has decreased between 500,000 to 750,000 barrels daily in Libya, less than one percent of global oil consumption, down from its typical capacity of 1.6 million barrels, the International Energy Agency reported last week.
Violence between Libyan leadership under Moammar Gadhafi and his opponents continued as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and leaders from other countries meeting in Geneva on Monday called on Gadhafi to step down. The European Union froze Libyan assets and implemented an arms embargo. Meanwhile, Gadhafi is adamant that he cannot step down.
"My people love me. They would die for me," he told ABC News. Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya for 42 years, said he felt betrayed by the United States.
Consumers who are feeling the pinch in gas prices at the pump may be able to turn to online tools like GasBuddy.com. Visitors to the site can find the cheapest gas in their neighborhood by ZIP code, based on data collected and reported by its users. Users also can earn points and win prizes, such as a weekly $250 gas card, by reporting local pump prices.
And drivers on the go can use their mobile device to find the closest and cheapest gas. GasBuddy released a mobile app for iPhones in December and is hoping to release a version for Blackberry devices by the second quarter this year. The free app uses GPS and cellular triangulation technology to provide listings for gas stations. GasBuddy also has an app for Android devices and Windows phones.
"It's a pivotal time to use the GasBuddy app to distinguish stations that have and haven't raised prices," said Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. He said, for example, that GasBuddy users in Indianapolis, where prices went up 50 cents per gallon in one day last week, could have saved a great deal by finding cheaper stations.
"If average prices in your area haven't climbed more than 15 cents per gallon, you'll likely see further additional increases of at least 10 cents per gallon," DeHaan wrote in the GasBuddy blog.
DeHaan said there are currently 79 million users between those who have downloaded the app and used the Internet to report gas prices.
DeHaan said the majority of gas prices are reported voluntarily by users, but GasBuddy also has a program for gas stations to report their prices directly.
When asked about the dependability of volunteer-reported data, DeHaan said they check each price posting for reliability. He said their system checks pricing patterns, a station's past history and its neighborhood competition.
"If someone accidentally presses wrong button, data integrity will test that," said DeHaan. "Most of the time our system is very reliable. We do on occasion independently confirm data."
Matt Gutman, Erin Keohane and Zunaira Zaki contributed to this report.