CHAMPAIGN — Gasoline price increases this week hurled Champaign-Urbana into the ranks of the nation's most expensive communities in which to buy gas.
Early this week, some stations in Champaign-Urbana were selling gas for as little as $3.26 a gallon.
But by Friday, the average price of gas in Champaign-Urbana had risen to $3.94, according to GasBuddy.com, an online monitor of local and national gasoline prices.
"Champaign is the 13th most expensive community in all 50 states," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com in Chicago. "Chicago is leading the nation at $4.25 a gallon."
The major factor: a pipeline spill in Wisconsin that prompted a shutdown of some supplies to the Chicago area.
The situation was complicated by equipment malfunctions at two refineries in the Chicago area and another refinery in the St. Louis area.
DeHaan was unsure how long it might be before regulators allow the pipeline to be restarted.
"It could be days or weeks. I doubt it would be months — probably one to three weeks at the worst," he said.
Meanwhile, motorists in the Champaign-Urbana area looking for relief might consider driving a half-hour south.
Maps at GasBuddy.com indicated that some gas stations in Douglas and Coles counties were selling gas in the $3.57 to $3.67-per-gallon range. Effingham, an hour away, also looked relatively cheap.
The price increases sent rates way up in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, and to a lesser extent, Wisconsin.
Prices in Iowa and Missouri tended to be 30- to 40-cents-a-gallon less, with huge differentials — at least for the short term — on the west side of the Mississippi River.
"Champaign's average gas price today is higher than California's by about 13 cents," DeHaan said Friday. "That's very unusual."
Illinois had the highest gas price among the 48 states in the continental United States, with an average of $4.05 a gallon.
"The majority of areas saw big increases Monday and another one Thursday," DeHaan said.
Wholesale gas prices rose 22 cents a gallon on Wednesday alone and 62 cents a gallon since July 25, he said.
DeHaan said retail prices tend not to rise as quickly as wholesale prices, for competitive reasons. But he said stations "tend to recoup their profits when prices go down," sometimes lowering prices a few pennies at a time.
In charging for gas, stations can make anywhere from nothing to 20 to 25 cents a gallon, DeHaan said. But the latter case is "a rare situation," he said.
Generally, stations make anywhere from nothing to 5 cents a gallon on sales, he said.
The pipeline spill occurred July 27 on Enbridge Energy Partners' Line 14 in Adams County, Wis. That pipeline runs from Superior, Wis., to Mokena, Ill., and is part of a system that extends from North Dakota to Chicago, with an extension to Buffalo, N.Y.
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration ordered the pipeline shut down and outlined a list of corrective actions Enbridge must take before the line can be restarted.
In a release, the federal agency said Enbridge's "integrity management program may be inadequate."
Prior to Friday's spill of 1,200 barrels of crude oil, Enbridge had spilled 840,000 gallons of crude oil in Marshall, Mich., in 2010. The agency also cited a 2007 failure on Line 14, as well as problems during construction of that line.
The pipeline problems came on top of equipment malfunctions at the BP refinery in Whiting, Ind.; the Citgo refinery in Lemont on Chicago's southwest side; and the Wood River refinery near St. Louis, operated by ConocoPhillips.
Equipment malfunctions typically "take four to seven days" to remedy, depending on the severity, DeHaan said.
Here's the range of prices for regular unleaded gas in some area communities, as reported by GasBuddy.com on Friday afternoon:
Gas prices may change by today. For updates, check GasBuddy.com.