Why are gas prices spiking?

Cheap fuel is usually one of winter's few bright spots. Not this year

A gas pump in Tustin, Calif., displays eye-poppingly high prices on Feb. 19.
(Image credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Image)

Americans normally associate climbing gas prices with the long days of the summer driving season. But this year is different: The average price of regular gasoline has risen 45 cents in the past 31 days, the fastest spike since 2005, according to AAA. At $3.75 a gallon nationwide, it is "the most expensive we've seen gasoline in the dead of winter," John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA, tells The Washington Post. Indeed, gas prices have already broached $4 in some areas, and some analysts expect it to only get worse as summer approaches.

Experts say there's plenty of global supply — abetted by an energy boom in the U.S. — which means prices should be lower. So what's behind the unseasonal rise in prices? One theory is that U.S. "refineries are switching over from winter to summer fuel, which is more expensive to produce," says Jacqueline Leo at The Fiscal Times. (Read more about the difference between winter and summer fuel here.) Furthermore, some refineries in the States have gone offline for maintenance, while a major refinery in New Jersey shuttered its doors.

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