Motorists seeing steep hikes in gas prices

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 23, 2003

Driving by local service stations early Friday morning gave Lawrence Countians a rude awakening long after their alarm clocks went off.

Gas prices had risen to an average of $1.76 per gallon, up 7 cents from earlier in the week. Monday, prices were 21 cents higher on the gallon than the previous week.

"Twenty-eight cents in less than a week's time is a lot of money," Amy Isaacs, manager of Clark's Pump and Stop in Ironton said.

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Currently, the national average is $1.66 per gallon, and Ohio's statewide average is $1.67, according to the AAA Web site. Neighboring states have similar averages with West Virginia's being $1.66 and Kentucky's at $1.62.

Several factors have led to the increase. The massive blackout in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada on Aug. 14 led to the temporary shutdowns of several oil refineries, said Bevi Norris, public relations director for AAA East Central, which serves southeastern Ohio. Because the refineries were not producing, this led to a lower supply of gasoline. Also, a pipeline break in Arizona has led to higher prices across the country, she said.

The northeastern blackout spreading to Ohio probably did not cause higher prices in the Northeast over other parts of the country. Oil refineries sometimes do not produce oil that is used in the part of the country in which they are located, Norris said. Also, prices have increased across the country.

During this time of the year, gasoline prices are generally higher regardless of catastrophes. In the summer, special blends of gasoline are used, which lead to higher prices, Norris said.

Labor Day weekend has also resulted in a higher demand for gasoline. Norris said AAA is expecting the largest amount of

Labor Day travelers on the road since 1995. This is a 2-percent increase over travel last year. Many people travel on this weekend, she said, because they are realizing this is their last chance to take a vacation while temperatures are still warm. Most of those people will be traveling by automobile.

Cheryl Slone, manager of Ironton AAA, said so far, she has not heard many customers express concern about the gas prices. She said she has seen more travelers than she has seen in two years, but more of those travelers will be going to closer destinations.

Hall Funeral Home director Ernie Hall had already planned a trip to the Sept. 6 Marshall University football game in Knoxville, Tenn., before he knew of the price increase.

"Just like everyone else, I'll guess we'll have to bear it and cut back," he said. "It's quite a drastic jump. We'll have to save money elsewhere to pay for it. Gasoline is a necessity, and whatever the price is, you have to pay for it."

Because Hall had already planned this trip, he will still take it. However, he said he will probably not travel as much as he usually does because of the increase.

Isaacs said she did not know the prices were going to increase at her store until 6:15 a.m. Friday. Her customers frequently ask her when prices will go down, and she cannot tell them.

She has noticed a few customers seem to be wanting to combine trips. One woman left the store only to come back minutes later because she forgot to pick up cigarettes, Isaacs said. This woman remarked that she should have picked up the cigarettes while she was at the store the first time.

Isaacs herself is feeling the pinch of the increase. She and her husband, both South Point residents, own both a Dodge Neon and a Jeep Cherokee Classic. The Neon gets better gas mileage. Even before the increase, to buy a half tank of gas in the Cherokee cost $13, she said.

"That was outrageous, but one of us has to drive each one," she said.

Her work commute is the shortest, so she usually takes the Neon, Isaacs said. Her husband not only has a longer commute, but his work with brain injury patients requires him to transport people to various places. She and her husband frequently visit his parents in Barboursville, W.Va.

"I'm hoping we get rid of this (Cherokee) soon," she said.

Motorists may not get a break any time soon. Prices will probably not go down until fall, but gasoline prices are very hard to predict, Norris said.