Gasoline prices leap upward

Texas drivers saw big jumps at the pump over the past week due to investors' reaction to continued strife in OPEC nations, as well as the mandated statewide changeover to higher-priced summer blend gasoline, according to the AAA Texas Weekend Gas Watch.The state average increased by eight cents over the past week to $3.51 a gallon for regular unleaded, while the national average rose six cents to $3.61.Fort Worth has the most expensive gasoline at $3.58 a gallon, which is 14 cents higher than last week. Dallas is not far behind at $3.57, up 13 cents in a week.Motorists in Corpus Christi are paying the least for gasoline at $3.43 a gallon, up a nickel from last week.Motorists in Sweetwater are paying $3.49 a gallon for gasoline.What’s driving the market?• Independent of continued international unrest, the change from winter blend to summer blend gasoline is having an impact in Texas. The gasoline blend is switched each year in March to a formula that burns cleaner in warmer weather, reducing air pollution. However, the summer blend is more expensive to produce and can cause a 10-cent to 15-cent bump in gas prices during the period of switchover• Oil prices continue their upward trend, climbing during the day Thursday to more than $106 a barrel as the unrest in Libya continues. The Benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was up more than $2 a barrel in morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That's the highest it's been since September, 2008.AAA Texas continues to recommend several steps motorists can take to maximize their vehicle’s fuel efficiency:• Drive the speed limit. Studies show that by following this simple step, drivers can save a significant amount of gasoline.  The U.S. Department of Energy says optimal fuel economy is achieved when driving between 45 and 60 miles per hour. Speeds above that range will reduce your fuel efficiency by between seven and 23 percent.• Clean out the trunk. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your fuel efficiency by up to 2 percent.• If you have a GPS, use it before you start driving. Plan the quickest and shortest distance to your destination. Avoiding hills and stops will increase your gas mileage.• Maintain your tire pressure at the manufacturer’s recommended level and keep your car well maintained.• Anticipate stop lights and stop signs and coast to a stop when it does not impede traffic or cause a safety issue, which will improve mileage.“As the first quarter of 2011 ends, oil and gasoline prices have jumped substantially," said AAA Texas/New Mexico Corporate Communications Manager Dan Ronan. "On Jan. 1, crude oil was $91 a barrel and today it’s more than $15 higher. At the start of the year, Texas gas prices averaged $2.91. They've increased by 60 cents since then, a jump of 21 percent. Compared to just three months ago, motorists in Texas are paying about $8 more per 14-gallon tank than they were on Jan. 1."