Traditionally, when the calendar flips past Memorial Day, motorists expect to receive some relief at the pump, as fuel prices retreat from the expected jump into the beginning of the summer vacation season.
This year, however, many motorists have encountered something far different at service stations in Kane County and elsewhere in the Chicago area.
In the past week, rather than relaxing, the price of gasoline has surged to near record heights in northeastern Illinois and in other regions around the Great Lakes.
On Friday, the price of a gallon of regular unleaded in the Chicago area hit an average of $4.42, according to the AAA Motor Club’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
Locally, regular unleaded was selling for $4.39 a gallon at most service stations in the Tri-Cities on Friday, according to information reported by fuel price tracking site, Gasbuddy.com.
That marked an increase of more than 7 percent from just one week ago, when gasoline cost $4.12 a gallon, according to AAA.
And it is just short of the record high of $4.51 a gallon recorded at the end of March 2012.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, said he understands that the price spike would leave many motorists perplexed. While some historical price spikes have been tied to the price of crude oil, this increase is different.
“This is all about refining, refining, refining,” DeHaan said.
DeHaan said some local refineries have reduced production to allow for maintenance, while others have struggled to bring their production up to peak.
That has, in turn, pinched supply in the Great Lakes region, explaining why of the 20 U.S. metro areas reporting the highest gas prices, all but four are in Illinois and nearby states.
DeHaan noted that the Chicago metropolitan area’s average gas price stands 79 cents per gallon higher than the national average of $3.63 a gallon for regular unleaded.
Pete Mancini, president of St. Charles-based fuel distributor and gas station operator, Parent Petroleum, said the situation is out of line with historical norms.
“This situation, this Chicago market, it’s just a mess right now,” Mancini said.
DeHaan and Mancini said they expect additional fuel supplies to enter the Chicago market in coming weeks, which should begin to push prices down.
“Hopefully, when things get back online in next few weeks, we should see a considerable drop,” Mancini said.