NEW YORK —
Volatility is most pronounced in the four neighboring states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Of the biggest 50 one-day swings in gasoline prices over the past three years, 41 were in those four states. Michigan is also plagued by especially high volatility. Flint, Michigan is second only to Kokomo in average daily price changes this year.
Analysts say a major upgrade underway at BP’s enormous Whiting Refinery in Northwest Indiana that processes 413,000 barrels of oil per day and serves much of the region is partly to blame. Construction has kept output lower, especially during the first half of 2013.
When output at a local refinery falls, fuel terminals must be filled with gasoline from refineries further away. That raises shipping costs, and it lowers supplies throughout the region.
California was a trouble spot in 2012. Prices spiked there last fall to a record $4.67 per gallon after an Exxon refinery in Southern California briefly lost power at a time when a Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif. was operating at a lower rate following a fire.
Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy policy expert at the University of California, Davis, suggests that refiners should be required by regulators to keep a minimum level of refined fuel in inventory, as is done in Europe, to help protect against sharp price spikes.
That might help people like Mike Barnett, who spends about $250 a day on fuel for his small business in Kokomo installing underground lines for telecom companies. He puts just a quarter or half a tank of gas in his vans and trucks when the price gets high and then waits for a better deal.
“You just can’t come and get gas like you used to,” he said.
AP Business Writer Tom Murphy contributed to this report from Kokomo, Ind. Jonathan Fahey can be reached at twitter.com/JonathanFahey .