Feb. 21, 2011— -- Gas prices continued an upward climb, settling at an average price of $3.59 a gallon, the U.S. Energy Information Administration announced today.
In some places, consumers are already seeing gas prices over $4. Today's weekly gas price average was up 40 cents from a year ago, and up by seven cents from last week.
"I'm expecting the national average to float dangerously close to $4 a gallon," Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy.com's senior petroleum analyst, told ABC News. DeHaan said that following last week's average price per gallon of $3.53, gas prices are very close to "that psychological $4 mark."
"We are on course to break through $4 nationally," he said. "Some of these major metro areas could hit $4.50 or even higher. This year we may have a run for the money in knocking down the record from 2008."
The peak national average retail price of regular grade gasoline hit $4.114 per gallon on July 7, 2008, according to the EIA.
In 2011, the real annual average for a gallon of regular gas reached $3.56, which was up more than a $1.00 from the 2010 average of $2.90, according to the EIA. The EIA, which has compiled data since 1919, has the previous record high as $3.45 for 1981.
"We may set a new record," said DeHaan. "I'm still expecting 2012 to be the highest yearly average we have ever paid."
One of the reasons for the rising price is Iran.
"Iran continues to make threats, and we continue to hear rhetoric about how they will cut off shipments to the U.S. or cut off access through the Strait of Hormuz," DeHaan said.
On Monday, Iran's oil ministry announced it had halted crude shipments to British and French companies.
"They're using oil as a weapon," DeHaan said. "The situation is tied to Iran's nuclear ambitions and the United States and European Union seem hell bent on making sure they drop their nuclear ambitions -- placing them on a collision course with who will act first."
Iran holds the world's fourth-largest proven oil reserves, and the world's second-largest natural gas reserves, according to the EIA.
"The price that affects the price you pay at the pump has gone up just as much and that's why you're starting to see retail prices rise," said Ben Brockwell, of Oil Price Information Service.
Brockwell said the situation in Iran and the EU may be one reason that the futures market is higher, but said he does not believe the reasoning is completely "justifiable."
"There's more to this than Iran and Europe," he said. "It's something else that is piling on.
"I think demand in oil consumption is growing at a rapid pace in developing countries like China and India," Brockwell said. "There's also sense that the U.S. economy is improving, and with that oil demand will be improving."
Regardless of whether the U.S. economy is improving, analysts don't expect gas prices to come down any time soon.
"This is somewhat a big game of chess and U.S. motorists are held victim," DeHaan said. "In fact, motorists all over the world are held victim."