Gas prices set to soar in Cleveland

CLEVELAND - Oil prices spiked early Monday to a nine-month high, and that will trickle down to the gas pump you use to fill up your tank.

Experts said this is the earliest time of year to see gas prices so high. The national average Monday afternoon for regular unleaded was $3.56. The average in the Cleveland area was $3.45. For the Akron/Canton area, the average was $3.47.

Prices across the country are around the same price point as Cleveland, with some areas closer to $4, and some areas already more than that. In New York, the average was $3.85. In San Carlos, California, it was $4.15.

The reasons oil prices spiked are complicated and varied. Iran announced it will stop exports to British and French companies ahead of an embargo by the European Union against its nuclear program, which starts on July 1. That means there is increased demand and decreased supply.

Also, Saudi Arabia indirectly revealed it's been cutting production. The world's largest oil supplier doesn't let other countries know how much oil reserves it has. The country does file a report with the Joint Organizations Data Initiative, which tracks oil production, consumption and export data.

Saudi Arabia decreased production in December by 440,000 barrels per day. This additional indicator of decreased supply, with ever-increasing demand from countries like China and India, also helped to push oil prices higher.

Over the past month, gas prices have shot up 18 cents a gallon, and it might get even worse. Economists predict the national average could reach $4.25 by late April and nearly $5 a gallon by Memorial Day.

Patrick DeHann of said an improving U.S. economy will only keep prices headed up.

"A lot of gas prices will be tied to the economy," DeHann said. "If we continue to see these improvements, gas prices will remain at elevated levels."

Oil and gas companies are about to end production of winter-grade gasoline at their refineries. The plants go through maintenance, and then begin production of a lighter blend of fuel for summer.

In addition, two refineries in Pennsylvania recently shut down for good, with a third scheduled to end operations soon.

These refinery factors will slow down production, while demand is not likely to ease.

Gas prices could also become a major election year issue. The Obama administration is looking at ways to boost energy production within the U.S. Also, late Monday morning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a new agreement with Mexico for joint oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite new political efforts, prices are inching closer to the highest recorded price for regular unleaded in the Cleveland area, which was $4.15 on May 4, 2011, according to AAA.

Some drivers said it's enough to make them want to buy a scooter.

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