Gas prices continue climb amid Middle East turmoil

Posted February 25, 2011 4:09 p.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2011 9:26 p.m. EST

— The average price of gasoline in the Triangle jumped nearly 10 cents a gallon on Friday over the previous day as unrest in the Middle East pushed crude oil prices to hover around $100 per barrel.

The average price for a gallon of unleaded in the Triangle was $3.26 – less than what motorists are paying in Charlotte, $3.30, but more than those in Greensboro, $3.22.

Gary Harris, with the North Carolina Petroleum Marketers Association, says the reason is that drivers pay for today’s gas at prices based on what retailers expect their next shipments to cost.

“They’ve got to pay for the product that’s coming in, not the product that’s sitting in the ground,” Harris said.

Harris says oil companies profit as they process crude oil they bought in the past and sell it as gasoline at the higher, current price.

But most of the profits go to investors.

“The people who trade in crude and crude oil are the ones who make that money, because as crude goes up, they are trading on that value, and that’s where the money goes. It’s at the upper end of the scale,” Harris said.

Harris says he doesn’t anticipate that the gas prices will exceed $4 a gallon this year, but how high they will be will continue to depend on how unrest affects oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the largest oil-producing country in the Middle East.

If the turmoil spreads there, the sky’s the limit, he says.

That's Raleigh driver Joe Fasciano's fear.

“With the Middle East being what it is right now, who knows how far this will go,” he said. “How many more countries are going to be affected, and how much more oil is going to be affected?”

Top oil-producing countries (thousands of barrels per day)*

1. Russia: 9,934

2. Saudi Arabia: 9,760

3. United States: 9,141

4. Iran: 4,177

5. China: 3,996

6. Canada: 3,294

7. Mexico: 3,001

8. United Arab Emirates: 2,795

9. Brazil: 2,577

10. Kuwait: 2,496

Top oil exporters (thousands of barrels per day)

1. Saudi Arabia: 7,322

2. Russia: 7,194

3. Iran: 2,486

4. United Arab Emirates: 2,303

5. Norway: 2,132

6. Kuwait: 2,124

7. Nigeria: 1,939

8. Angola: 1,878

9. Algeria: 1,807

10. Iraq: 1,764

Top oil importers (thousands of barrels per day)

1. United States: 9,669

2. China: 4,328

3. Japan: 4,311

4. Germany: 2,307

5. India: 2,233

6. South Korea: 2,139

7. France: 1,749

8. United Kingdom: 1,588

9. Spain: 1,439

10. Italy: 1,381

 *Data is from 2009 courtesy U.S. Energy Information Administration