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Gas prices Q&A may help explain why prices could reach $4 a gallon soon

So, gas prices jumped another 12 cents in the past week.

That's not a lot of money, but a little context might inspire questions about those huge oil company profits.

For example, U.S. census data show Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have about 1.7 million people age 18 or older. If even 30 percent of those people fill a common 17-gallon gas tank with regular fuel, that 12 cents quickly becomes a much bigger number.

Like $1 million.

By Monday, AAA reported the national average was $3.77 per gallon for unleaded regular gasoline. In Florida, it was $3.78. With prices on the rise, here are some other frequently asked questions.

When should we expect $4 a gallon gas?

It's hard to say, but AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady said if prices continue to increase like they have been, it could be as soon as May. A year ago, regular unleaded gas was $2.88 per gallon in Florida. The record average price for regular unleaded gas in Tampa Bay was $4.01 on July 16, 2008.

Is it true that demand is actually decreasing?

Yes. High prices may be part of the reason, but it's not clear. About 70 percent of major gas station chains in the United States reported a drop of 3 percent or more in sales, according to a March survey by the Oil Price Information Service. That's the sharpest drop since gas prices spiked in 2008. Still, decreased demand for fuel in the United States won't really affect gas prices. Worldwide demand is up, and unrest in the Middle East plays a larger role in driving up the prices of oil.

Why have gas stations gone to a more expensive "summer blend?"

They have to. Federal, state and local regulations require stations to use gas blends that are less likely to evaporate in the summer heat and pollute the environment, according to Laurie Falter, an economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Summer blends" use fewer rapidly evaporating compounds than their "winter blend" counterparts, but cost 5 to 10 cents more per gallon.

Where can I find a bus stop?

In Pinellas, visit www.psta.net for bus schedules. In Hillsborough, visit www.hartline.org.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Associated Press.

Gas prices Q&A may help explain why prices could reach $4 a gallon soon 04/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 11:57am]
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