Gas prices in area continue to skyrocket

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Gas prices continued climbing into record highs Tuesday as less than two weeks remain before the summer driving season really takes off.

Many area gas stations increased prices to $1.99 a gallon for unleaded this week. Plus and premium grades are over the $2 mark. Prices in West Virginia have already topped the dreaded two-bill mark for unleaded, while the national average is $1.92 a gallon.

Across the state, prices are the highest since AAA began keeping track in the 1970s. Locally, gasoline prices in Ironton topped last summer's record-setting levels.

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"This is the all-time high," said Darren Murdock, manager of the Buster's Bi-Lo at Lorain and Third streets. "The highest Ironton has ever been was last summer at $1.93 and that was only for a week or two."

Sales were sluggish Tuesday at many of the gas stations around the county, but others were a little busier as people tried to fill up before it gets worse.

"When gas goes up, things kind of slow down the first day while the shock wears off," Murdock said.

Now is the time of year that travel picks up. The summer driving season traditionally runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Despite record highs in three of the past four years, AAA still reported increases in travel each year, said Bevi Norris, public relations director for the AAA East Central office.

Coal Grove resident Jennifer Anderson felt the hit Tuesday as she filled up her tank.

"I would say the prices are ridiculous. It is crazy," Anderson said. "I am afraid to go anywhere."

The inflated prices have caused Anderson and her family to rethink their driving habits. Now, they try to run all of their errands in one trip and have cut out the country drives that she and her daughter enjoyed, Anderson said.

Gas prices may also have made the family rethink their vacation plans.

"I had thought about visiting my family in Wisconsin this summer," she said. "After the gas prices have gone up so high, I don't think we are going to now."

Norris attributed much of the increase to OPEC's decision earlier this spring to cut oil production and the ongoing war in Iraq.

"We really haven't heard anything positive," she said. "The only thing positive would be if OPEC decided to increase production - it could help. There is some talk that could happen later this month."

OPEC is already pumping at least 1.5 million barrels a day more than its quota, according to Bloomberg Media. Still, crude prices are up 42 percent from a year ago. Last week, oil prices topped $40 a barrel, the highest intraday price since 1990.

Delmer Hicks, owner of the Portsmouth-based South Shore Gas and Oil company that operates 50 gas stations across the Tri-State, emphasized that the retailers are taking a big hit, too.

"It is costing us over $1.90 a gallon just to put it into the ground. We may be selling it for $1.99, but we are only making a few cents on it at that," Hicks said. "The fault is not the gas stations'. We were losing money (Monday). It is just crazy. I have never seen it this bad."

Hopefully, the conditions will change this fall or sooner, Hicks said. Unfortunately, there is nothing the oil companies can really do.

"OPEC controls the market. When they loosen up and release some oil, the prices will go down," Hicks said. "Right now, they have us by the neck."

Jeremy Castle of Coal Grove agreed that prices are outrageous and that now may be the time to break out a bicycle.

"You go to work, and all you are doing is putting your paycheck in the gas tank," he said.