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Gas Prices Are Out of (Your) Control

That impact is taking its toll on U.S. consumers.

Take Long Island, where drivers were paying $3.63 per gallon on July 3. Two weeks later, that figure had risen to $3.88 per gallon, making it harder to fill that tank and get to work in New York City, or to load up the family for a day at the beach.

As far as U.S. gas prices on a regional basis, the last week could be dubbed a "Rocky Mountain Low." Only one U.S. region experienced declining gas prices in the most recent week, the Rocky Mountain region, where a drop of two cents in the price of gas to $3.49 represented a week over week decline of 0.016%.

The Gulf Coast experienced the biggest gas price spike -- though it still has the lowest average price among U.S. regions -- with an increase from $3.20 to $3.29.

On the East Coast, gas prices rose from $3.41 to $3.49, a penny behind the Gulf Coast increase. In the Midwest, gas prices rose by six cents to $3.48.

In the home of the nation's highest gas prices -- in the continguous 48 states, at least -- the West Coast experienced an increase from $3.67 to $3.71 in the most recent week.

Another factor inflating gas prices right now is an emerging trend among U.S. energy companies to close down refineries, which has resulted in a short-term boost in the cost of refining and moving gasoline into the U.S., and getting the commodity to consumers. Increasingly, intergrated oil and gas companies view refineries as a difficult long-term profit proposition, and are scuttling existing refineries, reorganizing refining operations, and looking for partnerships.

Among recent examples, Delta Airlines (DAL) and private equity giant Carlyle Group (CG) purchased East Coast refineries from oil and gas companies, while ConocoPhillips (COP) and Marathon Oil (MRO) split off refining and marketing businesses into separate publicly traded companise from their exploration and production. Delta acquired ConocoPhillips' Trainor facility, which was in danger of being shut down.

That shakeup in the refining sector will take time, and meanwhile, the refinery issue has helped drive up the cost of gasoline for U.S. providers, and for U.S. drivers.

Gas prices could continue to inch upward in August, and the bullish stock market action to end the week, with European bailout commentary causing the Dow to move back over 13,000 for the first time since May, is a bullish indicator for oil as well.

Add to these factors the continued chatter over a potential third round of Federal Reserve quantitative easing, which always triggers a bullish oil trade, and the trend line is up -- just reported second quarter U.S. growth of 1.5% was slightly better than the "bad" 1.4% expected by economists, yet between better and bad, the slow growth still doesn't necessarily make a convincing case for QE3.

The action shouldn't get out of control -- barring a macroeconomic meltdown causing prices to crash again or a major supply disruption sending prices back towards or even above $100 -- but that doesn't mean gas prices are any more under your control than they've ever been, even if you've downgraded from the Escalade to the Prius.

More on gas prices:

10 myths about saving money on gas

Single best tip to beat high gas prices

14 ways to fight back again gas prices

--By Brian O'Connell

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