For the first time since the summer of 2008, gasoline prices in Chicago have climbed over the $4 mark.
The BP station at Lawrence Avenue and Marine Drive in Uptown is charging $4.09 for a gallon of regular this morning. $4.29 for premium.
"It's crazy but it's close and I needed to get gas before I went to work so I didn't have a choice," said Michelle Gossett, the first customer there this morning. "It's right here, and I let it (my gas tank) get that low."
Several other Chicago area stations appear speeding toward the mark with prices at $3.95, according to the website ChicagoGasPrices.com.
Consumers may get the best deals at warehouse membership chains, such as Costco, which charges members a gallon of Regular for $3.32 at its Melrose Park location, according to the site.
AAA reports Chicago gas prices average out at $3.59. Last year at this time, motorists were paying about $2.80 for a gallon of regular.
Analysts point to escalating unrest in Libya and other Middle Eastern countries as factors for the surge in prices. Fighting in Libya may have shut as much as 850,000 to 1 million barrels a day of the North Africa's output, according to the International Energy Agency. Crude oil futures for April delivery have been hovering around $100 a barrel as fears that the unrest could spread to larger producers in the region.
Protests have spread to Yemen and Oman, the largest Middle Eastern producer outside of OPEC. But analysts said prices will probably decline to below $100 a barrel as Saudi Arabia releases supply from its reserves tomake up for the shortfall from Libya.
On Monday, the futures contract for oil for April delivery rose 2.7 percent to $99.63, the highest since close September 2008. Prices are 25 percent higher compared with a year ago.
One consolation for Chicagoans might be that the situation is worse on the West Coast. In Los Angeles, average gasoline prices are almost 20 cents higher than here, with one station reportedly selling regular for $4.69 a gallon.