CHICAGO — A recent spike in fuel prices has Chicago drivers paying the highest gasoline prices in the U.S.
"Yes, Chicago is the top dog, No. 1, top of the heap for gas prices no matter if we like it or not," said GasBuddy spokesman Patrick DeHaan, who is based in Chicago. "The highly coveted, most ridiculously high gas prices of the nation goes to ... Chicago!"
ChicagoGasPrices.com has Chicago area pump prices pegged at an average $4.26 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline, while AAA's Fuel Gauge Report lists the average price within the city limits at a painful $4.36 per gallon. These prices are 75 cents to 85 cents more per gallon than the national average.
AAA's Beth Mosher said that Illinois also has bragging rights on the highest state average for gas in the U.S., at $3.95 per gallon.
"Illinois has the highest state average, and Chicago has the highest city average in the U.S.," said Mosher. "Prices have gone up 20 cents a gallon in the last two weeks."
Mosher and DeHaan agreed on the reasons behind the spike in prices — the switch to the lower-emission summer gas blend, the recent rain storms that ripped through the Midwest and production issues at local oil refineries.
Every year, Chicago gas stations are compelled by EPA regulations to sell a specialty blend of gasoline that burns more cleanly and emits less pollution. The switchover from the winter to summer blend makes the fuel more expensive for refineries to produce. Wednesday was the first day by which all area gas stations had to begin selling the federally mandated summer blend.
"It's just a logistical nightmare getting that gas [summer blend] to market," said DeHaan. "Today [May 1] is the end of that process."
Mosher said the storms created floods and power outages at local and regional refineries, which disrupted fuel production.
Mosher and DeHaan also pointed to production issues at both Exxon Mobil's Joliet refinery and BP's Whiting, Ind., facility as partially to blame for higher prices. Both plants are going through expansions or extensive maintenance, which has limited their normal production output.
There is one piece of good news for Chicago drivers, however — the more recent gas prices are lower than the end of March when local prices hit a record $4.68 a gallon.
Is there any relief on the horizon for Chicago motorists?
"We won't see any big reprieve between now and Memorial Day," Mosher said, explaining fuel prices historically fall after the Fourth of July.
DeHaan is more optimistic.
"I see some downward movement likely," said DeHaan. "Give it a week or two, and we'll see prices go back down."