Gas prices jumped around 13 cents Tuesday in Wichita, soaring to $3.15 a gallon for regular. And with the unrest in the Middle East, such spikes may not be over.
"Remember the old days when it moved a penny a week? In this market it can move 10, 15, 20 cents a day," Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for QuikTrip in Tulsa, said Tuesday.
Up until Tuesday, price increases this year had been a gradual thing, inching up past $3, but the price of gas shot up from 11 to 16 cents in some places starting Monday night in Wichita as violence shook Libya and crude oil prices spiked.
Krystle Vincent of Wichita was one of those who were kicking themselves Tuesday for not having gotten gas Monday.
"This morning I swore it shot up 13 cents," she said Tuesday afternoon.
She was right.
Two oil companies, including the biggest energy producer in Libya, on Tuesday suspended production in the country because of the deadly protests against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. And oil prices soared to the highest level in more than two years as the country's sizable oil exports were threatened and concerns rose that violence would spread to other major oil producers in the Middle East.
Wichita paid an all-time high of $3.90 a gallon for gas on July 15, 2008. Last year at this time we were paying 61 cents less per gallon — $2.54.
Up until this latest increase, Americans were paying 50 cents more per gallon this year than last year. That translates into an extra $300 in annual gasoline costs for someone driving 15,000 miles in a vehicle that gets 25 mpg.
Up until now, "we've not seen any signs of changes in what's going on with people traveling by car" in Kansas, AAA Kansas spokesman Jim Hanni said. "Traffic in our offices is real steady. Last year we just did extremely well," and each holiday has shown a 3 to 5 percent increase over the previous year.
But that was before Tuesday. "Obviously there's a lot of concern about later on in the year," Hanni said.
Gasoline supplies should be up this time of year, because people don't drive as much as when the weather is warm, Hanni said. So we can expect spring and summer gas prices to only be compounded when supply decreases.
"We see prices continuing to increase through the spring and summer," said Neil Gamson, economist for federal Energy Information Administration. "We don't see prices under $3 for the next two years."
Higher fuel costs could force businesses and consumers to spend less on other things, slowing both the economy and the pace of hiring.
The main concern stalking markets is that revolts in the Middle East and North Africa will spread to OPEC heavyweights, particularly Iran, the group's second-largest producer, and Saudi Arabia.
"The key country in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia, not Libya," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey. "If all of this can avoid Saudi Arabia, I think it runs its course and we see gasoline at $3.50 to $3.75 a gallon and oil at $95 a barrel. If we start to see demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, then we are dealing with something entirely different."
As Wydell and Terry Knox of Wichita were getting gas Tuesday, Terry talked doing all her errands in a circle to use less gas. Wydell had another idea:
"I'm thinking about getting a bicycle."
Thornbrugh, of QuikTrip, said he couldn't predict what would happen next but advised: "Watch the market and pour yourself a stiff one, because the price keeps going up."