Energy markets have been rattled by pro-democracy uprisings that have cut off oil exports from Libya and threatened disruptions of crude supplies from major oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Benchmark oil has surged more than 20 percent since last month when fighting broke out in Libya. Libya sits on the largest crude reserves in Africa. Until recently, Libya produced nearly 2 percent of the world's oil. Experts say those exports will likely be halted at least for another several months.
Unrest in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria has raised further worries about world oil supplies. Those countries don't produce much oil of their own, but uprisings could interfere with oil shipments in the region. Yemen sits on a strategic shipping lane that handles about 4 million barrels of oil a day.
Gasoline pump prices were already at the highest levels for this time of year prior to the Libyan rebellion, and they've now pushed even higher. The national average on Tuesday rose slightly to $3.587 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular has climbed 23.3 cents in the last month and 78.7 cents since last year.
Gasoline is now more than $4 per gallon in California, Alaska and Hawaii.
Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said drivers could be squeezed more in April. 'That's typically when we see some of the biggest price increases' at the gas station, Kloza said.
Economists said the overall impact of higher pump prices is unclear. The Conference Board Consumer Research Center said Tuesday March 29, 2011 that rising food and fuel prices pushed its consumer confidence index in March down to levels that were last seen during the recession.
Yet data from the Energy Department shows gasoline demand rising at the wholesale level compared with last year.