What makes up the price of a gallon of gas?

Why? Blame the falling dollar. Oil is priced in U.S. dollars, and the weaker the dollar gets, the more attractive dollar-denominated oil contracts are to foreign investors — or any investor looking for a safe haven in the turbulent stock market.

The rush of buyers keeps pushing oil futures to a series of new records, and the rest of the energy complex, including gasoline futures, has followed. That pushes up the price of gas that goes into your tank.

"Crude is the driver," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Ill. "As long as it stays up there, gasoline's not going to be able to decline much at all, even if demand slips. That's just the way it is."

There is some evidence Americans are buying less gas as the price marches higher, and common sense suggests they would cut back even more if gas rose to $4.50 or $5 a gallon.

Lower demand should mean lower prices — but it takes time for that to happen, given the enormous scale of refining operations that produce gasoline.

"Once demand begins to slow, that needs to translate into inventories, then you get some price weakening," Ritterbusch said. "But it takes a while."

Oil and gasoline prices often move in the same direction, but they aren't linked directly. In fact, while oil prices have more than doubled in the past year, gasoline is only up about 19% during the same time.

Oil prices often fluctuate with production decisions from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which supplies about 40% of the world's crude, or when conflict in the Middle East or Nigeria threatens supplies.

For example, oil prices rose $2.46 in one day last month amid reports a ship under contract to the Defense Department fired warning shots at two boats in the Persian Gulf that may have been Iranian.

A Navy spokesman later said the origin of the boats was unclear, but the news raised concerns that a conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces could cut oil supplies from the region. That same day, gas prices rose another 2.1 cents to a then-record national average of $3.577 a gallon on other supply concerns.

And the rise has only grown more dramatic. Oil sprinted higher this past week, rising more than $4 a barrel on Wednesday alone and past $135 on Thursday.

As for gasoline prices: They're closely tied to demand from U.S. drivers and how efficiently refineries are operating. Falling production or inventories often send prices skyrocketing.

Those prices can vary greatly depending on the region.

The Gulf Coast is the source of about half the gasoline produced in the United States, and areas farthest from there tend to have higher prices because of the cost of shipping gas via pipeline and tanker truck all over the country.

Some of those places, like California and New York, also have higher local taxes that push the price higher.

Oil companies may not set the price of oil and gasoline, but not everyone is willing to sit back and let them claim to be innocent bystanders.

In particular, for the second time this year, Big Oil's biggest executives were on Capitol Hill in recent days getting pummeled by many in Congress for their record profits while Americans struggle with record fuel prices.

"Where is the corporate conscience?" Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked the top executives of the five largest U.S. oil companies.

Answers sought

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