Gas Prices Force Motorists to Dig Deep

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Summer is still a month a way, but motorists already are facing some of the highest gas prices ever. The national high has climbed to $3.20 a gallon. Pump prices are almost at an all-time record that's stood for more than a quarter-century.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now the average price of gasoline around the country has climbed to a new high of more than $3.20 per gallon. That is closing in on the all-time record, which has stood for more than a quarter century.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: No matter how high gasoline prices have climbed in the last few years, economists have pointed out they're still lower than they were in 1981, after adjusting for inflation. That's still the case, but the contest in getting closer, so close the Energy Department recently dusted off those 1981 prices to see just how they'd measure up today.

Mr. DOUG MACINTYRE (Oil Market Analyst, Department of Energy): If you really wanted to get exact, if would probably be close to like 3.29.

HORSLEY: Doug MacIntyre of the Energy Department says today's pump price is only seven cents a gallon below that.

Mr. MACINTYRE: It would certainly be safe to say this is one of the highest prices we've ever seen even when adjusting for inflation.

HORSLEY: MacIntyre says ongoing refinery problems continue to limit the supply of gasoline, especially in the Midwest, where a March fire knocked a large BP refinery out of service. Midwestern gas prices jumped more than 15 cents a gallon in the last week, even as prices on the costly West Coast dipped by about a penny.

Mr. MACINTYRE: Chicago is now above San Francisco on our survey. Chicago is at 3.53 for regular and San Francisco is at 3.51.

HORSLEY: With just over a week to go, MacIntyre expects gasoline prices to average between 3.15 and 3.20 a gallon for the month of May. That's still just a little shy of the inflation-adjusted record.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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