Area gas prices top $4 a gallon; low supply to blame
CHAMPAIGN — Gas prices in the Champaign-Urbana area hit their highest point ever Friday, shooting past the $4-a-gallon mark.
But an industry analyst said consumers may see a little relief within days.
By midday Friday, many gas stations in Champaign-Urbana were selling gas for $4.19 a gallon, up about 20 cents from Thursday.
The average price in the Champaign metro area was $4.14 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.com, which monitors gas prices across the nation.
"The prices you're seeing today (in Champaign) are the all-time record-high," said Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.
The high prices come as the result of shutdowns at five Midwestern refineries, and the effects are being felt throughout the Great Lakes states, Laskoski said.
On Friday, Chicago had the highest gas prices of any metro area in the nation — averaging $4.46 a gallon, still shy of the city's record high of $4.56 set in March 2012.
The cities with the next highest prices were: Gary, Ind.; Lansing, Mich.; Grand Rapids, Mich; and Flint, Mich., followed by Honolulu.
"Any time you have cities with prices exceeding those of Honolulu, that's a problem," Laskoski said.
He said the problems stem from:
— An extended shutdown at an ExxonMobil refinery in Joliet.
— An April explosion and fire at a Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit.
— Reduction in output from a Citgo refinery in Lemont.
— A BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., operating at only one-third of capacity due to a long-running expansion project.
— Slowdowns at a Phillips 66 refinery in Wood River.
Laskoski said gas prices in Indiana and Michigan dropped a penny from Thursday to Friday, which could be a sign prices are topping out.
But he said it's difficult to say when prices will decline here.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that it will be days and not weeks, but realistically it could be another week or two," he said.
Prices were averaging $4.18 a gallon in Indiana on Friday, and $4.23 a gallon in Michigan, he noted. The U.S. average was $3.64 a gallon.
Several metro areas just outside the Great Lakes states had prices significantly lower than those in Champaign-Urbana.
Gas in the St. Louis area, for example, was selling for $3.29 to $3.41 a gallon, while Louisville, Ky., stations were selling it for $3.39 to $3.57 a gallon.
A few places within a couple hours' drive of Champaign-Urbana still had prices below $4 a gallon Friday, according to GasBuddy.com. Springfield stations had gas for $3.89 to $3.99 a gallon, while prices in Effingham ranged from $3.77 to $3.99.
At the Murphy USA station on North Prospect Avenue in Champaign, several motorists ducked in Friday afternoon to take advantage of one of the few places locally selling gas for $3.97 a gallon.
"We just came back from Alabama on Tuesday, and every state between here and Alabama is considerably cheaper," said Carol Baine of Urbana, as her husband, Jeff, filled up their tank.
She said they saw prices as low as $3.12 a gallon on their trip.
Richelle Gentry-Flemons of Champaign made a beeline for Murphy USA after picking up a friend from an Urbana hospital.
"I drove like 100 (mph) to get gas here before it changes," she said after buying $75 worth of fuel.
Jackie Jones of Saybrook said was relieved to find a $3.97 price posted in Champaign after seeing gas advertised for $4.09 in her McLean County community.