Refinery maintenance and escalating tensions in the Ukraine are sending retail gas prices higher, in Central Oregon and around the nation, AAA Oregon-Idaho said Tuesday.

The national average for regular unleaded gains three cents this week to $3.46 a gallon while the Oregon average jumps eight cents to $3.44. Retail gas prices in every state and the District of Columbia are higher than they were two weeks ago.

The national average is at its highest level since September of last year. Oregon's average is at its highest price since late October.

AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds says, "Despite rising gas prices, drivers in Oregon are enjoying lower pump prices than drivers in most states. The Oregon average has been below the national average for 24 consecutive days, since February 9. Oregon's gas prices are 30th most expensive in the nation. Often, Oregon is among the top 10 most expensive states, but has been out of the top 10 since October of last year."

The standoff between Russia and Ukraine has sent crude oil prices higher, as investor concern grows that the situation could impact global oil supplies.

While there has been no disruption in supplies, Russia (10.4 million barrels per day) is the third largest oil producing country after Saudi Arabia (11.7 million barrels per day) and the United States (11.1 million barrels per day) according to the most recent Energy Information Administration data.

Dodds adds, "This will be an important issue to monitor as it develops. Further escalation, including any disruption to global supply, could propel global oil prices higher, which has the potential to magnify the seasonal price increase at the pump."

In 2011 and 2012, Geopolitical tensions in North Africa and the Middle East exacerbated the seasonal spring price increases at the pumps.

In 2011, amid violence in Egypt and Libya, the national average increased 89 cents per gallon during a 94-day period before peaking at $3.98 per gallon on May 5.

In 2012, on escalating tensions with Iran, the national average increased 56 cents per gallon over a 70-day period before peaking at $3.94 per gallon on April 5. In Oregon, the peak price for 2011 was $3.97 on May 6, and for 2012 was $4.27 on June 1.

Last year, the national average peaked at $3.79 on February 27, the earliest peak on record. In Oregon, the 2013 peak came on May 22 at $3.98 a gallon.

"Gas prices are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks due to seasonal refinery maintenance," Dodds says. "While AAA still believes that prices will peak at lower highs than last year, the situation between Russia and Ukraine has the potential to impact the global oil supply, and send oil and gas prices higher."

AAA expects the national average to rise to $3.55 to 3.75 a gallon before heading lower into the summer. The Oregon peak price is usually higher than the national peak price.

Regional refinery issues are impacting pump prices in many states this week. Here in the Pacific Northwest, refinery issues have largely been mitigated by ample supplies in this region.

The Cherry Point refinery in Ferndale, Washington continues to undergo maintenance and the Shell refinery in Anacortes, Washington was scheduled to begin planned maintenance by the end of February. Refineries perform maintenance ahead of the mandated switchover to the cleaner-burning, summer-blend fuels.

Despite increasing pump prices, drivers are still enjoying lower prices than a year ago, when the national average was $3.75 and Oregon's was $3.78.

The tensions between Russia and Ukraine are the major story for the markets to start this week. At the close of Tuesday's formal trading on the NYMEX, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil settled up $2.33 at $104.92 per barrel, which was the highest settlement price since September 19. From October 21 through February 7 West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices spent just one day above $100 per barrel and traded as low as $91.80 on January 13. Today WTI is trading around $103. Crude prices are up about seven percent in the last month.

For the latest citizen-reported gas prices around the region, check out KTVZ.COM's Pump Patrol.

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