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Oklahoma Gas Prices Still Rising, But Leveling Off

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Tuesday's national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $3.78, which is the highest on record for this calendar day. This price is three cents more expensive than one week ago, 43 cents more than one month ago and eight cents more than the average price one year ago.

After rising for 36 consecutive days, the national average fell for three straight days but then rose again overnight. The 36-day streak was the longest string of increases in nearly two years. The recent surge in retail prices has been driven by rising crude oil prices in past weeks and refinery maintenance issues.

This schedule for maintenance this year at the nation's refineries and the subsequent switch-over to summer-blend gasoline production appears to be more dramatic than in recent years and is taking place earlier than in 2012. Last Thursday, the Department of Energy reported that during the previous week, U.S. refineries had processed crude oil at the lowest rate (14.42 million barrels per day) since April 8, 2011. While gasoline output was also lower versus a year ago, the decline was not as dramatic. This may be because refineries are processing an increased amount of shale oil, which yields more gasoline per barrel than other crude products.

Global demand continues to keep upward pressure on gas prices despite unremarkable domestic demand due to a still recovering economy, high unemployment and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. In particular, China (the second largest oil-consumer after the U.S.) saw crude oil demand hit a record high of 10.62 million barrels in January, which was up ten percent from the same month in 2012.

Prices in 46 states and Washington, D.C. have increased over the last week. Motorists in just four states (Ohio, Ind., Mich. and Ky.) have seen prices decrease from a week ago. As of this morning, drivers in three states and D.C. are paying more than $4.00 per gallon – Hawaii ($4.36), Calif. ($4.24), D.C. ($4.01) and N.Y. ($4.01).

Crude oil prices, which had drifted higher but traded in a narrow range to begin 2013,  moved lower last week as increased crude oil inventories and bearish economic news weighed on markets. This included declines for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude of $2.20 per barrel on Wednesday and $2.38 on Thursday to a new 2013 low of $92.84, before recovering back above $93 to end the week. At the close of formal trading on the NYMEX yesterday, WTI prices settled $93.11 down 2 cents per barrel.

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