New York: The economists warned that the recent surge in fuel prices will eventually hurt the fragile economic recovery.

So far fuel prices haven't slowed consumption, but economist Michael Lynch said that drivers and businesses may start cutting back, if oil remains above USD100 per barrel level.

The jump in oil has already pushed the average price of gasoline up by 46 cents a gallon this year, just as some workers who were laid off during the recession return to a daily commute.

"We're past the point of, 'Oh, it's only going to be up for a few days,'" Lynch said. "I think people are already starting to change their behavior, and they're modifying their vacation plans as we get closer to the summer,” he added.

Oil prices started rising since late last year, as investors anticipated new tax cuts and gasoline demand increased. They soared above USD100 per barrel last week as the Libyan uprising essentially shut down the country's exports.

The oil industry has tried to ease concerns saying that the rise in prices was mostly due to speculation and there's still plenty of crude to meet world demand. But investors continue to worry about future supplies.

Although Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members have said they will cover any shortfall from Libya, the wave of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East will make it harder to crank up production if another crisis affects shipments elsewhere.

In other Nymex trading for April contracts, heating oil lost six cents at USD 3.0120 per gallon and gasoline gave up five cents at USD2.9790 per gallon. Natural gas fell 11 cents to USD3.820 per 1,000 cubic feet.