Tampa Bay gas prices rise 8 cents in a week

Retail gas prices around Tampa Bay surged about 8 cents over the past week, and AAA warned that increased crude oil costs and the aftermath of the earthquake in Chile could mean even higher prices.

A gallon of unleaded regular around Tampa Bay cost about $2.70 on Monday, up from $2.62 a week ago and $2.64 last month, according to AAA. Gas prices statewide increased by about 6 cents.

The jump was higher in states such as Tennessee and Georgia, which had increases of almost a dime Monday. Still, a gallon of regular gas there was 16 cents and 10 cents cheaper, respectively, than Florida.

Higher crude oil prices are mostly responsible for the spike, said Jessica Brady, AAA spokeswoman. Recent reports about a better-than-expected U.S. economy and improved gross domestic product have led investors to pour money into crude oil under the assumption that growth will boost demand.

For months, a strengthened U.S. dollar drove down prices for crude oil. But now the dollar is struggling against a stronger euro, she said.

Crude oil prices closed at $79.66 a barrel on the New York Stock Exchange, the highest in six weeks.

Another factor that could likely sustain increased prices is Chile's earthquake, which has forced two oil refineries to shut down because of power outages. Each factory produces 116,000 barrels a day and is assessing property damage, Brady said. The factories reported they had enough gasoline to last a couple of weeks.

"We really don't know right now how bad the damage is," she said. "This can lead to a supply issue."

Brady said this week and next will be key in determining what prices will be like in the coming months.

Prices typically rise in mid-March as refineries switch from winter to summer gasoline blends, but they could be more than average this year given the expensive start.

"This is going to kind of set the tone for what our prices will be in the summer," Brady said.

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Tampa Bay gas prices rise 8 cents in a week 03/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 1, 2010 11:20am]

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