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Politics hits gas pumps

December 31, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - A potential war with Iraq, strikes in Venezuela and OPEC nations that are tightening the belt on crude oil supplies are among the factors leading to higher prices at gas pumps, and things may get worse, according to a AAA spokeswoman.

"In a state of war, you never know," said Myra Wieman, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Gas prices in Hagerstown increased about 10 cents in the last month. The $1.45 per gallon average price of self-service regular unleaded gasoline in Hagerstown Friday was higher than the $1.09 it was a year ago, but lower than in May 2001, when prices rose to $1.63, she said.

The increase in May 2001 was a result of a short supply of crude oil to the United States.

Iraq is the sixth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, supplying 0.63 million barrels a day. Canada, the nation's top supplier, sells the United States 1.8 million barrels of crude oil a day.

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If war occurs, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela are among countries that officials have said would step up oil production to sell to the United States, but oil workers in Venezuela are currently on strike, which increases the cost to the United States, Wieman said.

Crude oil was billed at more than $30 per barrel Dec. 16, which was the most it has cost in more than 60 days.

Wieman also said that some members of OPEC are holding back on their supplies of crude oil to the United States because the supply here is in higher demand and those countries want to make more of a profit.

She said the low $1.09 gas price last year was due to light travel by air and land as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"For each major holiday in 2002, the number of people traveling has increased," Wieman said.

Glenn Walls, 39, of Philadelphia, was filling up his gas tank at Sheetz on Virginia Avenue in Hagerstown. Walls and his family were returning home from a holiday trip to Bristol, Tenn. He said gas prices were the worst he's seen in a while.

"I'm certainly not happy about it," he said. Walls said he's probably spent $20 more this trip than on past trips to Tennessee.

Charles Clark, 39, of Hagerstown, is not pleased with the increase, either.

"I used to get filled up and now I only get a couple dollars worth," Clark said.

Clark said he hopes the prices drop soon, but others aren't as optimistic.

"With the potential war coming, it's going to keep going up," said Cheryl Phillips, 57, of Cascade. "It's something we have to live with and plan for."

Wieman said prices may seem high in Hagerstown, but they are not as steep as in Montgomery or Prince George's counties.

"We're in good shape," she said.

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