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Motorists face gas price hike

March 26, 2002|BY DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline rose at least 16 cents across the Tri-State area and 20 cents nationally over the past month, according to a AAA survey.

"It seems like it goes up every two days," said Rick Frazier, 46, of Hagerstown. "Two gas stations I pulled into last week ... were changing (the prices)."

Higher crude oil prices, increased demand, and the annual switch from winter to summer grade gasolines are being blamed for the increases at the gas pumps.

Many people cut back on traveling after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which prompted refineries to reduce output and then OPEC to cut back production, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Myra Wieman said.

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People began traveling more this month, she said.

The demand put a strain on supply, "so suppliers started charging more to retailers, who pass it on to us," Wieman said.

A barrel of crude oil costs about $25, "its highest level in six months," Wieman said.

Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, which represents major oil companies, said crude oil costs about $6.50 more per barrel now than in mid-January.

"Crude oil is the biggest component of the gas price," Cobbs said. "There is a direct correlation between the price of crude oil and the impact on the price at the pump."

Cobbs said even with the recent price increase, "the bottom line is gas prices are still lower than a year ago."

A gallon of regular unleaded gas cost an average of $1.42 across the nation last year, according to a AAA survey.

Spring is also when gas producers and stations switch from winter to summer grade gasoline, Wieman and Cobbs said.

The switch, which is mandated by the federal Clean Air Act, puts cleaner-burning fuel in cars over the summer months, Wieman said.

"The summer grade is a little more expensive to make," said Charles Goodie, a vice president with AC&T.

The price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas at the 15 AC&T stations in the Tri-State area ranged Monday from $1.27 to $1.29, he said.

"The prices have risen dramatically here the last couple weeks," Goodie said, noting that a month ago some area AC&T stations were selling gas for $1.09 a gallon.

"I'm tired of changing the price sign," said Carol Fike, manager at Greencastle Exxon on East Baltimore Street in Greencastle, Pa.

Regular unleaded gas at that station cost almost $1.30 a gallon Monday, up from $1.19 two weeks ago, she said.

"It's going up every day," said Sunny Mahavadi, owner of Sunny's One Stop in downtown Martinsburg, W.Va. "Everybody's complaining."

Some predicted gas prices will go even higher.

"It's starting to rise and I've been told it's going to be on the rise," said Betty Jane Rice, owner of Leitersburg Liberty on Leitersburg Pike north of Hagerstown. "Generally this time of year the price goes up."

"But there ain't nothing you can do," Frazier said. "There ain't no way you can stop driving."

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