How to beat rising oil and gas prices

Gasoline prices are displayed at a station on Feb. 21, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. AP Photo/Ben Margot

When a rumored explosion at a Saudi Arabia pipeline caused crude to jump over $110 this week, it underscored just how anxious investors are right now. As a reminder, the majority of the increase in oil from the October lows of around $76 a barrel can be attributed to a general pick-up in the economy combined with rising demand from China and India.

Back in October, investors and economists were concerned that a European meltdown would drag the world down into a second recession, which is why stocks were trading at 52-week lows (the Dow fell to about 10,500) and oil tumbled accordingly.

Between October and the beginning of February, Europe avoided a disaster and the economy improved, which is why crude oil gained $20 and was trading at $96. But don't blame the last leg up in prices from $96 to $108 on U.S. consumers -- it's all about tensions over Iran. In fact, U.S. crude imports fell to the lowest level since 1999, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Imports as a share of U.S. oil consumption has now dropped to 44.8 percent, the lowest proportion since 1995, and well off the peak of 60.3 percent in 2005.

Although U.S. consumer behavior isn't responsible for the spike in oil and gas, they are left with gas prices that have surged $0.30 per gallon over the past month. While we hope for Middle East tensions to abate, in the mean time, there are some practical things you can do to save money at the pumps. Check out this quick video on the topic:

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    Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, is the Editor-at-Large for CBS MoneyWatch. She covers the economy, markets, investing or anything else with a dollar sign. Prior to the launch of MoneyWatch in 2009, Jill was the chief investment officer for an independent investment advisory firm. In her infancy, she was an options trader on the Commodities Exchange of New York.

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