The summerlong decrease in gas prices is over.
Most stations in Brainerd-Baxter today were selling gas at $1.79 per gallon, some as high as $1.89 per gallon, marking a 40-cent increase from just a few weeks ago.
Gas prices are on the rise throughout Minnesota. Gas prices today were reported in Duluth at $1.73, in Minneapolis $1.75, in Rochester $1.72 and in St. Cloud $1.76 -- all at or near 40-cent increases from a month ago, AAA reported.
"We've seen just an incredible jump in gas prices," across the state, said Daron Van Helden, spokesman for AAA Minnesota-Iowa.
Unlike a year ago, when high prices were caused by production cutback by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the recent surge at the pumps is being blamed on a refinery fire at a Citgo plant in Illinois.
AAA reported the fire, which happened Aug. 14, boosted gas prices an average of 20 cents per gallon across the Midwest. The plant is expected to be closed for six months.
Darrel Bunge, executive director of the Minnesota Petroleum Council, said it is difficult to determine how long gas prices will be affected by the refinery fire, but reserves from other parts of the country could help ease the high gas prices.
"Hopefully this will be a temporary glitch in the system that will work its way through and supply and demand will take care of the situation," Bunge said. "The only question is when."
Prices in the Midwest are typically higher than in other areas of the country in part because of increased regulations and requirements for gas additives such as ethanol.
Van Helden said gasoline prices in the state should fall after Labor Day as the demand drops, and later in September as the regulations and requirements for gas additives are suspended.
Nationwide crude oil prices are holding steady, if not falling, with West Texas crude reported at $26.68 per barrel today, compared with Friday's per-barrel cost of $28.25. Those prices are about $5-$7 below what they were in 2000, when OPEC cutbacks in crude oil production drove the price of oil up, thus driving gas prices up.
Though the recent gas price increase was caused, in part, by the Illinois refinery fire, more gasoline price increases may be on the horizon as OPEC is preparing to meet Oct. 1.
"It's a real unknown what OPEC is going to do," said Bunge, who believes the organization could cut back on production, thus driving gasoline prices higher. "That'll be something to watch."
For the most part gas prices this summer have been steady in the Brainerd-Baxter area, staying around the $1.30-$1.40 range, which is in contrast to the summer of 2000 when gas prices peaked at near $2 per gallon.
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