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Gasoline prices soaring in Washington County

February 02, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Motorists filling their gas tanks in the area likely are finding their wallets a bit lighter than they might have a month ago, as prices have jumped locally by about 16 cents per gallon since last month.

A spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic said January is just the beginning of what is expected to be a very unstable year for gas prices.

The price per gallon for self-serve, unleaded gasoline increased between Dec. 29, 2003, and Jan. 29 by 16 cents both nationally and in Maryland, and by 17 cents in Hagerstown, according to a AAA Mid-Atlantic news release.

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"It's certainly a dramatic increase," AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John White said Sunday. "There was a point in January where the price was going up about a penny per day."

White said Maryland's all-time record high price per gallon of unleaded gasoline, $1.71, could be broken this year, perhaps during the warm-weather months.

"We're certainly getting close, and the year has just started," he said. "Some of the experts we've talked to have predicted a volatile 2004."

White said one of the key reasons for the increase was the $36 per-barrel price of crude oil last week, a record-high.

By comparison, the average price per barrel in 2002 was $24.09 and the price in 2001 was $22.95, according to the Energy Information Administration Web site. The price for 2003 was not available.

The Web site said the price paid by consumers at the pump is affected by factors including the transport of crude oil to refiners, refinery processing costs, distribution costs and taxes.

"The combination of the cost of crude oil and the low temperatures we've had causing increased demand have really caused the gas prices to spike," White said.

However, the price had dropped to $32 per barrel by Friday, White said.

"We're hoping the gas prices will follow," he said.

Some Hagerstown gas stations dropped prices Sunday, including the AC&T on Wesel Boulevard, where regular unleaded gas cost $1.57 per gallon, and the Sharpsburg Pike Sunoco on South Potomac Street, which was charging $1.59. Both were approximately 8 cents higher on Saturday.

Employees at the stations said they did not know the reason for the reduction. Mangers at the stations were not available late Sunday afternoon.

However, not all businesses followed suit. The price on Sunday at the Long Meadow Exxon on Leitersburg Pike was $1.65 per gallon, while the price at the Sharpsburg Pike Shell on Sharpsburg Pike was $1.69, employees said.

White said effective ways to save money during the high-price rush include not using higher-grade gasoline unless your car's owner's manual says it is necessary and simply holding out for the best price.

"Shop around and don't wait until you're almost empty because then you'll be at the mercy of the closest station," White said.

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