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Back to nearly $3 a gallon

Those cruising days of gas for under $2 a gallon have been left in the dust.

The cost of a gallon of regular gas accelerated by an average 34 cents this week, giving Oregon the second-largest weekly increase in the nation.

According to AAA, Oregon's average roared to $2.82 a gallon, the largest weekly spike since July 2013. The national average, by comparison, rose only 13 cents to $2.44 a gallon, about $1.03 less than a year ago.

“What’s going on?" asked an alarmed Bill Miller of Shady Cove, who said he filled two vehicles on consecutive days at the same neighborhood pump and found a 32-cent jump on the second day.

"It really annoys me how everyone is so content to pay it, saying at least it’s not what we were paying last year. I’m not a conspiracy person, but maybe prices are being manipulated."

Rogue Valley residents back in January were celebrating with Facebook posts of pump prices $1.99 and below. By Feb. 25, however, the average price in the Medford-Ashland area had risen to $2.58. And Wednesday, it was up to $2.97.

AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report noted that nationwide, prices rose every day for 35 days straight, the longest such streak in two years. It blamed unexpected outages and seasonal maintenance at refineries that have slowed production. ExxonMobil’s refinery explosion in Torrance, Calif., on Feb. 18 meant trouble for California, which posted the nation's highest average price at $3.39 — unseating Hawaii as the nation’s most expensive market for retail gasoline for the first time since October 2012.

AAA spokeswoman Marie Dodds of Portland said in a phone interview that when the refineries are back online, it’s likely prices wil--30--l head toward the new normal we’d gotten used to in the past year.

Jumps of 30 to 50 cents a gallon are normal in late winter and spring as refineries shift to cleaner, summer-blend fuel, as required by the Environmental Protection Agency, Dodds said.

Looking at the global gas picture in her weekly column, Dodds noted a continuing oil glut — good news at the pump.

“Volatility remains a central theme in the global oil market, and reports of increased production from Libya and a rise in exports from Iraq will likely keep global prices on the move," she wrote. "U.S. production companies are beginning to scale back plans for exploration and production ... (in the face of) the global market’s continuing oversupply. Nevertheless, production remains high and stocks continue to build.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

The average cost of a gallon of regular gas in the Medford-Ashland area was $2.97 on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / photo illustration