Mar. 4, 2011 -- With gas prices as high as they are, the situation has become almost laughable. 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.
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 upon 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.
Overnight, the price of gasoline went up 17 cents along the New Jersey Turnpike. This morning, drivers saw the price jump from $3.08 Thursday to $3.25 today.
Oil prices around the country continued to soar, buffeted by uncertainty in the Middle East.
Although unrest in Libya has not yet disrupted global oil supply significantly, analysts have said the markets remain concerned the revolts percolating in the Middle East will affect supplies in the top oil exporters in the world, such as Algeria, Iran, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Stocks plunged as oil prices around the world continued to soar today.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 150 points in mid-day trading. Despite the announcement of a lower unemployment rate this morning -- 8.9 percent -- economists were disappointed wage figures in the jobs report was unchanged.
Crude oil futures settled at $104.42 a barrel in New York on Friday, up nearly $2.51 from a day earlier. Today's price was $7.71 higher than last week's close, an increase of about 8 percent. Oil prices are now at levels last seen in September 2008.
An oil facility in Libya reportedly was damaged and on fire, the Al Jazeera news channel reported today. Meanwhile, unrest continued in other parts of the Middle East.
"I think there's a storm brewing in Saudi Arabia," said Tom di Galoma, head of fixed income rates trading with Guggenheim Securities. "All these geopolitical events in Middle East are causing oil to spike."
As concerns about oil prices continue to increase, so has discussion about opening up the nation's petroleum reserve.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., joined a list of legislators calling on President Obama to be ready to sell from the national oil reserve to stabilize prices.
Crude oil production has decreased between 500,000 to 750,000 barrels daily in violence-torn and protest-wracked 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.
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.
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.
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.