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Gas prices hit record high

March 25, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

The national, state and Hagerstown-area records for highest gas prices were shattered in one fell swoop this week, according to a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

And with the summer traveling season on the horizon, a price drop was not expected anytime soon.

According to statistics released by AAA Mid-Atlantic Wednesday, the price for self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline was at $1.74 nationally and $1.72 statewide and in the Hagerstown area.

The increased prices topped the previous national and Hagerstown-area records set Aug. 29, 2003, when the national average was $1.73 and the Hagerstown-area average was $1.68, the AAA spokesman said.

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The prices also break the Maryland high of $1.71, set May 18, 2001.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John White said it is difficult to predict whether prices will level off or continue to increase as the busy travel time that unofficially begins on Memorial Day weekend approaches.

"It doesn't appear prices will be coming down in the near future," White said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

White said several factors are driving the increases: An increase in the price per barrel of crude oil to $38; OPEC announcements that the crude oil supply would be cut; insufficient refinery capacity in the U.S.; and political unrest in the Middle East.

"We've become so dependent on foreign oil that some of the turmoil abroad is certainly affecting our prices," he said.

White said Sunday it is possible the price locally might exceed $2 per gallon by the end of the summer. The price already is above $2 per gallon in three states - California, Nevada and Hawaii, according to AAA statistics

White said one of the short-term measures that consumers can take to combat high prices is to be choosy about where they buy gasoline. White also has said he believes continuing increases, if dramatic enough, might cause consumers to adopt long-term solutions such as abandoning "gas-guzzling" trucks and sport utility vehicles for more gas-efficient cars, including compacts and hybrid vehicles.

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