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Gas prices soar past $3.50 per gallon: Are Middle Eastern uprisings to blame?

Gas prices have been only modestly affected by fighting in Libya, but a 'fear factor' is driving up oil futures, which in turn drive gas prices.

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Gas prices are posted in Santa Cruz, Calif., on March 7. Pump prices have jumped an average of 44 cents per gallon since the beginning of the year, propelled by a $20 per barrel oil price increase since December 2010.

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

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Americans are paying an average of $3.51 per gallon to fill up their gas tanks, a number that for many is synonymous with "Ouch!" Gasoline pump prices are up 13 percent in the past month, and 4 percent in just the past week, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report.

The rapid run-up is unusual, and some economists worry it could throw sand into the gears of an economic recovery – just as much-needed new jobs are starting to arrive.

What's going on here? Is the price spike justified by populist uprisings in Libya and other oil-producing nations?

The answer is complex, although one thing is fairly clear: The jump at the gas pump hasn't outpaced the rising price of the key ingredient – crude oil. No need to go looking for conspiracy theories involving gas-station managers.

Oil traded at about $105 per barrel Monday, as investors fretted about the possibility of a protracted civil war in Libya. Global oil prices have risen about 36 percent over the past year, during which time the average US retail price for gasoline rose about 28 percent.

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