Indiana's average gas price soared Wednesday to nearly $4.16 a gallon, putting the state some 50 cents above the national average in a surge one economist blamed on "a perfect storm of refinery outages."
The website Gasbuddy.com said Indiana's average price of a gallon of unleaded regular gas was about $4.16 Wednesday afternoon, compared with the national average of about $3.64 a gallon. Indiana's highest average gas price was set in May 2011, when it reached $4.26 a gallon, the website states.
Purdue University economist Wally Tyner said Indiana's gas prices had already been rising, but the average price increased about a dime Wednesday alone. He said he's never seen such a large price gap between Indiana's average and the U.S. average.
The surge at the pump comes just as many Indiana families are embarking on summer vacations.
Tyner said scheduled maintenance work at BP's Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana and at Exxon Mobil's refinery in Joliet, Ill., was already taking longer than expected — reducing regional gas supplies — when a Marathon oil refinery in Detroit was hit by a late April fire and other refineries had some glitches.
"It's a just a perfect storm of refinery outages," he said. "All these other things had been there, but then the Detroit fire was the straw that broke the camel's back. We've just had a series of unlucky draws."
Tyner recently said he expected this summer's Midwestern gas prices to be lower than last summer's. He said the maintenance work at the BP Whiting refinery had reduced its gas output by about two-thirds before the Detroit refinery fire and the Joliet refinery's ongoing maintenance combined to shrink gas supplies and boost prices.
Tyner said it could take a few weeks for gas prices to drop as the regional refineries come back to full production. Until then, people planning Midwestern vacations will be paying significantly more for gas than other Americans.
"If you're vacationing, once you're out of here you're OK," he said.
Gasbuddy.com on Wednesday showed that Michigan's average gas price was about $4.21 a gallon, Illinois' average price was $4.18 a gallon and Kentucky had an average of nearly $3.63 a gallon.
Indiana's highest average gas prices were in the state's northern region, with the highest about $4.25 a gallon in Gary and South Bend — and the lowest, in Evansville, at nearly $3.78.
Michael Green, a AAA spokesman, said the Midwestern surge in gas prices had prompted many Americans to postpone travel plans while they wait for prices to drop.
"The sad fact is that motorists are in a wait-and-see mode, waiting for refineries to increase production. This is very frustrating for people taking their summer trips," he said.
Green said the hope is that the affected refineries can ramp up their production during June, helping alleviate the supply problems. He said BP Whiting and Exxon Mobil's Joliet plant are two of the nation's largest oil refineries.
Minnesota and North Dakota recently set record high average gas prices after the cost of a gallon of gas in those states soared between 60 cents and 80 cents a gallon, he said.