Midwest drivers to see lower gas prices

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The worst may be over for drivers in the upper Midwest who have been grappling with the highest gasoline prices in the continental U.S.

Analysts said one major Illinois refinery is back online and another big one in Indiana is on track to ramp up production again soon. The refineries’ ongoing maintenance — which led to reduced supply and higher prices — are the primary culprits for the surge at the pump.

“On balance, I think the worst is over,” Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at GasBuddy.com, said Tuesday.

Exxon Mobil’s refinery in Joliet, Ill., was offline longer than expected, he said. Assuming there are no hiccups with BP’s plans to soon restart a crude unit at its refinery in Whiting, Ind., prices could drop below $4 a gallon within weeks throughout a five-state region stretching from Wisconsin to Ohio, according to experts.

“You just have one refinery issue after another. As they’re coming back on, that should be a big thing,” said Phil Flynn, chief energy analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

AAA said Michigan’s average price of a gallon of unleaded regular gas was $4.20 on Tuesday, topped only by Hawaii and well above the national average of $3.63 per gallon. Motorists in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin were paying above $4 on average while drivers in Ohio were shelling out $3.90.

Gas prices in the five Midwest states ranked in the top nine states nationally.

Analysts said it will take some time for the refineries to ramp up production, but the upgrades — which took longer than expected at the Illinois refinery — ultimately could pay dividends because some maintenance is being done so facilities like the one in Whiting can refine Canadian crude oil.

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