America Battles Sticker Shock at Gas Pump

"This is like robbery," a Florida patron says after filling her SUV.

March 07, 2011, 11:26 PM

March 8, 2011— -- There was no relief for Americans today from rising, record-setting gas prices.

The average cost of gas has jumped to $3.52 per gallon, up 72 cents in the past month. Overnight, prices jumped another penny.

It is the highest price ever posted during the month of March. And gas could cost even more, depending on location.

California remains the nation's most expensive state, where gas tops $3.91 a gallon, according to AAA's daily gas prices. The least expensive gas is in Montana: $3.19 a gallon.

But the nation's priciest gas can be found in Florida at a Suncoast Energy gas station in Orlando. There, gas prices have passed the $5 mark: $5.39 a gallon for regular and $5.49 for premium.

Suncoast is among the last gas stations travelers pass on the way to the Orlando airport, making it a prime spot for customers in a pinch.

When ABC News asked would-be Suncoast patrons about their choice of gas station and pointed out the high prices, some decided to look elsewhere to fill up their tanks.

"It's lower than California, I know that," one man said before he saw the price signs. "What the ... I guess not."

Sally Slater said she spent $75 to fill up her SUV with half a tank of gas, which is about $5.50 per gallon.

In Photos: Pain at the Pump

"This is like robbery," Slater said, admitting that she didn't look at the price of the gas before pumping. "If I had looked beforehand, I would not have purchased this."

ABC News tried to contact the station owners about the prices but received no response. Technically, the station's rate is not price gouging, a legal term which applies only during states of emergency, like Hurricane Katrina.

In fact, stations can charge as much as they want, but Orlando's mayor has said he doesn't approve of the price.

"We don't think this is right. We don't think people should be tricked into paying $2 a gallon more for gas than they could a half mile down the road," said Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Unrest in Libya

With consumers feeling the pain at the pump, oil prices neared $105 a barrel today in Asia today, as fighting continued in Libya.

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 such 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.

Cost Savings Tools

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

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' Erin Keohane and Zunaira Zaki contributed to this report.

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