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WV gas prices take 20-cent jump -- and might jump more

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In less than a week, West Virginia gas prices have spiked nearly 20 cents a gallon, and analysts say more increases could be on the way.

The average price for regular unleaded hit $3.836 a gallon Monday, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report.

That was up 1.6 cents from Sunday and 19.1 cents higher than the $3.645 average last Monday.

Most stations in the Kanawha Valley were selling regular unleaded for $3.89 a gallon Monday. Most of those stations were selling at either $3.69 or $3.79 one week earlier.

"Our prices from our suppliers have really jumped this month," said Jan Vineyard, president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association.

"For example, in Roanoke the average unbranded rack (price) has increased over 30 cents this month," Vineyard said.

Over the last month, the price of the pump has surged more than 41 cents, according to AAA data.

The state prices are following a broader national trend.

"We have seen over the past month on the national level a 43 cent increase," said AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter.

Hunter said the increase was due in part to refineries beginning the switch to the production of more expensive summer blends of gasoline.

Summer blends are federally mandated cleaner-burning gasoline blends sold between June 1 and Sept. 15 to reduce smog in urban areas. The blends were first sold to consumers in 1995, and further regional adjustments have been made since then.

When refineries begin switching to those blends in the spring, they sometimes run into maintenance issues and production delays. Complicating the matter is the fact that there are 13 different blends. When a refinery producing one particular blend goes down, the number of refineries that can pick up the slack is limited.

That can lead to supply shortages and higher prices.

"There's also been some unexpected shutdowns of refineries, which has led to tighter capacity and supply," Hunter said.

And -- unfortunately for consumers -- the pain at the pump is expected to get worse ahead of the summer driving season.

"The steady climb of retail gas prices is likely to continue following double-digit increases in wholesale prices with fuel production tightening in the majority of the country's refineries," GasBuddy.com analyst Gregg Laskoski said his weekly analysis.

Hunter said AAA's experts expect the price to keep going higher. She said they expect prices to peak around April 5 and 6.

That is about the same time the national average peaked last year at $3.94 a gallon.

In prior years, overseas tensions in countries like Egypt and Libya caused oil prices to spike. Analysts are not including any Middle East events to strain prices this year.

"Last year and the year before where there were political tensions that caused the increase," Hunter said. "We're not seeing that this year.

"This year, the main drivers are the summer blends and the supply," she said. Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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