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Retail gas hits record $3.50 a gallon


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Gas prices at the pump jump record $3.50 a gallon as crude prices spike above $117 a barrel

NEW YORK (AP) -- Retail gas prices hit another milestone Monday, tightening the squeeze on drivers by jumping to an average $3.50 a gallon at filling stations across the country.

Crude oil, meanwhile, set a new record of its own, spiking above $117 a barrel after an attack on a Japanese oil tanker in the Middle East.

"It's killing us," said Jean Beuns, a cab driver in New York who estimated he is making $125 to $150 a month less than in the fall because of costlier fuel. "And it was so quick. Every day you see the price go up 5, 6, 10 cents more."

Diesel prices at the pump also struck a record high of $4.20 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service, putting pressure on truckers and other shippers who rely on the fuel to transport goods to market.

Prices are expected to keep climbing as they trace the path of crude, which has surged to new records for six trading sessions in a row. Oil prices are rising along with a host of commodities, from corn and wheat to gold and platinum, that are enticing speculators seeking hedges against a weakening dollar.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose to a record $117.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange but later fell back to $116.29, down 40 cents from Friday's close.

Nationally, retail gas prices jumped more than a nickel over the weekend, and are up 23 percent from a year earlier. Drivers are paying the lowest prices in New Jersey and the most in California, where a gallon of regular is now averaging $3.86 for a gallon.

For motorists, the worst may be still to come. That is because the summer driving season, when demand is at its greatest, has yet to begin.

"People want to drive, they need to drive, they have to go to their job," said Samer Katib, manager of a Marathon station on Chicago's South Side. "But people who would drive around or go places for fun, they're not doing that any more. It's just go to your work and go home."

The Energy Department predicted earlier this month that monthly average gasoline price will peak at over $3.60 per gallon in June and could possibly reach the $4 threshold.

"It's uncharted territory," said Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service, Wall, N.J. "I don't think we're done, but I have to believe we're in the eighth or ninth inning" of price increases.

The higher prices are already prompting some drivers to cut back.

In New York, Elvis Ragbir and Anthony Winckler said they are driving less and taking the subway more.

"I'm spending all my gas money on metro cards," Winckler said in the waiting room of a vehicle inspection station in Manhattan. Ragbir, a delivery truck driver, said he is looking to trade in his Lexus LS 400 for a smaller car.

In downtown Chicago, Sharon Cooper spent $52 to fill up three-quarters of the tank in her Toyota Highlander SUV. She said she tries not to let the prices get to her, although she also is changing her habits: "I am buying a bike to commute to work this summer," she said.

Energy Department data show gasoline consumption fell more than 1 percent during the four weeks ended April 11, compared with the same period a year ago.

That change in consumption patterns, while not drastic, is significant, said Mariano Gurfinkel, project manager at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin, who expects per-capita demand to drop further this summer if gas prices rise or even remain at the current levels.

Americans will continue to drive, but some may change a summer vacation destination as gasoline costs continue to make a bigger dent in their pocketbooks, Gurfinkel said.

Crude prices came under increased pressure Monday after the 150,000-ton tanker Takayama was struck off the coast of Yemen as it headed for Saudi Arabia, its Japanese operator, Nippon Yusen K.K., said in a statement posted on its Web site. None of the ship's 23 crew members was injured, but several hundreds of gallons of fuel leaked before a 1-inch hole in the tanker's stern was repaired, the company said.

Kyodo News agency reported that the Japanese tanker was fired on by a rocket launcher from a small boat.

"There's clearly some geopolitical tension in the market," said Mark Pervan, senior commodity strategist at the ANZ Bank in Melbourne, Australia. "This will die down, but the market is pretty jittery at the moment.

Adding to the worries were claims Monday from the main militant group in Nigeria's restive south that it had launched two more attacks on oil pipelines in the region. Attacks since early 2006 on Nigerian oil infrastructure by the militant group have cut nearly one-quarter of the country's normal petroleum output, boosting oil prices. Nigeria is a major supplier of oil to the U.S.

Comments over the weekend by an OPEC official that the group was not likely to increase production also supported prices Monday. Abdalla Salem el-Badri, secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, said Sunday that oil prices would likely go higher and that the group was ready to raise production if the price pressure was due to a shortage of supply -- something he doubted.

"Oil prices, there is a common understanding that has nothing to do with supply and demand," el-Badri said on the sidelines of an energy conference in Rome.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures fell 0.49 cents to $3.2874 a gallon while gasoline futures fell 2.52 cents to $2.9641 a gallon. Natural gas futures rose 6.3 cents to $10.65 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Associated Press Writers Dave Carpenter in Chicago, Dan Caterinicchia in Washington, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest and Thomas Hogue in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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For motorists, the worst may be still to come. That is because the summer driving season, when demand is at its greatest, has yet to begin.
"Oil prices, there is a common understanding that has nothing to do with supply and demand," el-Badri said on the sidelines of an energy conference in Rome.

These two statements don't compute.

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$100 fill-ups arrive at gas pumps

COALINGA, California (CNN) -- Noel Bosse and Ken Davis watch as the numbers keep spinning at the gas pump -- 70 bucks, 80 bucks. Gulp, guzzle, then it stops: $101 for about 25 gallons.

The $100 fill-up has arrived in the United States.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous," Bosse says with disgust.

Bosse and Davis are returning from Las Vegas, Nevada, heading back to their home near Seattle, Washington. They're pulling a trailer full of Arabian horses in their passenger van.

The 1,200-mile trek is costing nearly $1 a mile. Bosse says they're averaging 200 miles every fill-up, or 10 miles to the gallon. Watch how soaring prices are changing lives »

Bosse has been showing dogs and horses in competitions across the country for 35 years. With gas prices soaring, she's starting to rethink some of the upcoming shows.

"We're sitting here hauling a horse trailer eating gas," she says. "I don't see how people make it these days."

California is home to the nation's highest gas price, $3.87 for regular unleaded; diesel is pushing $4.43 a gallon, according to Troy Green, with AAA.

San Francisco is the most expensive city at $3.97 a gallon. However, a drive around the city shows many stations have jumped over $4.

The national average for regular unleaded is $3.53 and rising daily. Last year at this time, it was $2.86 per gallon. According to AAA, 24 states and the District of Columbia are averaging at or above $3.50 a gallon for regular unleaded. The state with the lowest gas is New Jersey, at $3.34 per gallon.

Green says Americans should expect the price to increase another 25 cents over the next month and

continue to climb over the summer months.

"A national average approaching $4 a gallon should not be ruled out by consumers later this year," he says.

AAA has seen that when gas prices hit "exorbitant levels" -- as Green puts it -- Americans change their vacation plans. During such times, he says, Americans are more prone to travel closer to home, stay at less expensive hotels, eat at fast-food restaurants than fancier dine-in restaurants and plan more online trips looking for the best deals.

This year's record high gas prices -- coupled with a slow economy and the mortgage crisis -- have had a cascading effect. A person making $9 an hour needs to work nearly seven hours just to pay for 15 gallons at $4 a gallon, according to CNN.com's gas calculator.

"It seems many American consumers are being hard hit from multiple directions, and their overall budgets are being maxed to the limit," Green says.

As for California, Green adds, "It's unbelievable out there."

That's a sentiment shared by Diddy Dennis, a cab driver in San Francisco. He's been driving for nearly 11 years and the gas prices are directly cutting into his wallet. He recalls the early 2000s when people started complaining when gas out West started hitting $2.60.

"That looks like heaven now," Dennis says.

His big smile and warm laugh provides an air of calm in his cab, even if he's eating into his way of life every time he presses the gas pedal. He estimates he's making about 60 percent less than he used to when he first started driving.

"It's really hitting us," he says.

San Francisco commuter Debbie Jasmin says she's stopped driving her gas-gobbling Expedition and started taking the subway to work more. She's also curbed summer travel plans.

"I don't really think we have seen the worst of it," Jasmin says.

At a San Francisco Chevron, Scott Roberts is stunned when he pulls into the station in his pint-sized Toyota Prius, which gets over 40 miles per gallon. The person before him paid $115.80 for 27.9 gallons. The price at the station ranges from $4.14 for regular unleaded to $4.39 for supreme unleaded.

Roberts mutters the Lord's name in vain. "This is brutal," he says. "Today's the first time I've seen it over $4 in my lifetime."

By the time he's finished, it's cost him $43 to fill his Prius -- an amount that just a few years ago was reserved for giant sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Nearby, Dolly Sarlo fills up her black Mercedes. She says it's time for Americans to "vote with your dollars and to stop using gas" and use public transportation more.


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Just curious...what is every one paying to fill up their gas tanks and what kind of MPG are they getting?

My last fill-up was my highest cost yet: $57.00, I have to burn premium but I usually get between 22-25mpg depending on my highway/city driving mix

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My V8 truck costs $60 to fill up, and I get 15mpg combined. That lasts about a week. Lately, I take the motorcycle, it costs $15 to fill up, I get 40 - 45mpg, and it also lasts about a week. Annnd, it goes 0 - 60 in 2.8 seconds... woohoo.

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I use midgrade and pay around 60-70 to fill up. I get around 18 mpg, and the tank will last a week and a half or so.

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Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4X4- Cost me $57 to fill up yesterday, 87 octane, and I get about 17mpg. I have to fill up on Thursday evening and then again on Sunday night after all the running around we do on the weekends.

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