Continued Hostilities in Libya as Oil Settles to $105.44; National Average Gas Price Rises Again to $3.52

PHOTO Gas price signs poke fun at the recent rise in prices as seen in this flickr.com images.
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Crude oil futures settled at $105.44 for April delivery, up $1.02 from Friday, according to the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Oil had hit a high of $106.95 a barrel today in early trading, as hostilities continued in Libya.

As expected, the Department of Energy released a higher weekly national average gas price today.

The national average is $3.52 per gallon, up from $3.38 per gallon last week and 77 cents high than a year ago. This is the highest price ever posted during the month of March.

The least expensive gas is in the Rocky Mountain region again: $3.30 a gallon. According to AAA's daily gas prices, California has the most expensive gas at $3.90 for regular grade.

The skyrocketing prices were enough to inspire pranksters to modify a gas station price to read LOL, alluding to the surprise that commuters often face when they fill up.

Cash strapped consumers vent about high gas prices.

The pain at the pump depends on three factors: location, location and location. In Orlando, Fla., one gas station that is closest to the airport is selling gas at $5.39 today, 10 cents more than last week's price of $5.29.

Although unrest in Libya has yet to disrupt global oil supply significantly, analysts have said the markets remain concerned that the revolts percolating in the Middle East might affect supplies in the top oil exporters of the world.

Charles Dewhurst, national energy practice leader at BDO, said those concerns may turn into a reality.

"Now that the situation in Libya has been going on for two weeks, I think we are starting to see a disruption in supply," Dewhurst said. "If the hostilities continue, and it seems to be heading for a long duration, I think the potential for more supply damage may be in store. That is carrying over to the price of gas at the pump."

And as concerns about oil prices continue to increase, so has discussion about opening up the nation's petroleum reserve.

President Obama's chief of staff, William Daley, said Sunday that the White House is considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserve is located along the Gulf Coast and contains about 727 million barrels of oil.

"Whether we should tap into the strategic oil reserve, I think politically, that would be very popular," Dewhurst said. "But if you think of the vast concerns about our daily consumption, experts predict that would only have a small percentage impact on the gas price."

That news may have quelled investors momentarily, but they are still on edge about protests in Saudi Arabia.

"Oil investors are still very concerned even in light of the possibility the administration may open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve," said Patrick De Haan, petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.

Consumers who are feeling the pinch in gas prices at the pump may be able to turn to online tools such as 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.

$4.00 per gallon in Massachusetts

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," DeHaan said.

DeHaan said there are currently 79 million users, between those who have downloaded the app and those who used the Internet to report gas prices.

The majority of gas prices are reported voluntarily by users, but GasBuddy also has a program for gas stations to report their prices directly, DeHaan said.

When asked about the dependability of volunteer-reported data, DeHaan said they check each price posting for reliability. He said the system checks pricing patterns, a station's past history and its neighborhood competition.

"If someone accidentally presses a wrong button, data integrity will test that," DeHaan said. "Most of the time our system is very reliable. We do on occasion independently confirm data."

ABC News' Matt Gutman, Erin Keohane and Zunaira Zaki contributed to this report.

 
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