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Fuel tied to stocks

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There’s good news and bad news to report in connection with gasoline prices in central Indiana.

The bad news is that prices at the pump jumped by 40 cents to 60 cents per gallon since late last week, to $3.459 for regular unleaded at many Columbus-area gas stations by Monday afternoon.

“When it’s like this, you don’t get a whole lot. You wait for it to come down,” said Beverly Mena after putting a few dollars’ worth of gas Monday into a Toyota Corolla at the Circle K/Shell station at 25th and Taylor, where the price had been 60 cents less per gallon just days before.

Anthony Miller, a Clifford resident, said he saw prices well below $3 per gallon last week.

Other motorists reported regular unleaded in the mid-$2.80s per gallon range at the Murphy Oil gas pumps next to Walmart in east Columbus.

That station and most others were selling gas for $3.45 per gallon on Monday.

But here’s the good news.

At least one oil industry analyst doesn’t expect prices in the Columbus area to hit $4 per gallon during the next several months due in large part to the fact that a major oil refinery owned by BP in Whiting is capable of running at peak capacity after a major upgrade.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst and blogger with, said the recent run-up in prices at the pump has a lot to do with crude-oil price gyrations linked to the uncertain economic outlook in the U.S.

In recent days, gas prices at the pump and crude oil prices have followed the same trend lines as the stock market. When stocks rise, so do oil and gas prices, because of the theory that an expanding economy will consume more fuel and diminish supplies.

When the Dow Jones industrial average drops by triple digits in a day, oil prices go down by $1 or $2 per barrel, and gasoline prices dip lower, too.

But when stocks rise sharply, as they did last Thursday and Friday, gas prices rebound.

West Texas Intermediate crude was selling for just more than $100 a barrel on Monday, DeHaan said, up from about $93 a barrel last week.

The Oil Price Information Service on Monday reported average prices in the U.S. at just more than $3.29 per gallon for regular unleaded. The average price in Indiana was a little higher — $3.37 per gallon — for the same fuel.

Ohio and Illinois had slightly higher averages than the Hoosier state — $3.396 and $3.43 per gallon, respectively, according to OPIS.

DeHaan said prices will trend even higher soon as springtime draws near.

“We will see an inevitable run-up in prices no later than mid-March,” the expert said.

“With the Whiting refinery operating all-hands-on-deck for the first time in several years, we’re not likely to see $4 per gallon gas in central and south Indiana,” he said. “The only place you’ll see $4 gas in Indiana is in the northwest corner of the state near Chicago.”

If gas prices do hit $4 per gallon anywhere else in the Hoosier state over the summer, it will be very short-lived, spanning less than 10 days, DeHaan predicted.

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