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Experts warn of record gas prices across North America

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Posted / Last update: 27-02-2012

Drivers across North America are paying more to fill their tanks as analysts warn of record fuel-price increases this spring. The price of crude oil reached a nine-month high last week, closing at more than $106 a barrel. At the pumps, that translated to an average fuel price of $1.24 a litre in Canada. At this time last year, the average price was $1.13 a litre

Gas prices in Vancouver could reach $1.50 a litre this summer, experts say. The average price of gas in the city has already gone up more than six cents this week to $1.34 a litre.

In the U.S., average gas prices are expected to hit $4.24 a gallon by April -- a record for that time of the year. California has been one of the hardest hit states so far, where some drivers expressed their anger by throwing pop cans at changing fuel price signs.

Prices are fluctuating due to increased demand for oil around the world and instability in some regions. Iran recently threatened to withhold its oil deliveries as the U.S. and Europe tighten economic sanctions against the oil-rich country over suspicions it's attempting to build a nuclear bomb. Iran has already stopped oil shipments to Britain and France. It's a largely symbolic move because Britain hasn't purchased oil from Iran for over a year and France only buys a small amount.

A recent cold snap in Europe and heavy demand from developing nations is also affecting oil prices. Analysts warn that even small threats to the oil supply can disrupt the market. For example, a fire at a Seattle refinery spiked fuel prices overnight last week.

Compounding the problem is the fact that refineries suspend operations every spring to switch the type of gasoline they make. Supplies of wintertime gas are sold off before March, when refineries start making summertime gas, which contains less butane and other compounds that contribute to smog. The period during this production switch can mean less supply for gas stations, resulting in higher gas prices.

The only thing drivers on a budget can do is limit their travel and wait for the prices to drop, but analysts say it's hard to predict when relief will come.

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