High Gas Prices Forcing Drivers to Change Habits
Many Moore County residents say they are changing their driving habits to combat soaring gas prices.
"The only time I go out is for necessary trips," Irene Hill of Aberdeen said as she pumped gas at an area convenience store. "No more pleasure drives, no more joy riding. Prices are definitely going too high."
Aime Atkins of Southern Pines expressed similar sentiments.
"I just don't go out to go out," Atkins said. "And when I do, I pick my routes carefully."
Atkins said she tries to get as much done in as few trips as possible.
Retail gas prices surged 2.1 cents overnight Wednesday to a national record average of $3.267 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. The price has risen nearly eight cents in the past week.
Diesel fuel, used to transport the vast majority of the nation's consumer goods, also hit a new record. Diesel prices rose another 3.3 cents to a record average of $3.909 a gallon Thursday.
Frank McNeill Jr., owner of McNeill Gas and Propane in Aberdeen, said supply is not the culprit for higher gas prices.
"It's the big traders who are running the price up for profit," McNeill said. "They are controlling prices. There is plenty of gasoline. There is as much now as there has been in 14 years."
McNeill, who owns five Mac's convenience stores in the area and supplies gasoline to several others, said another factor that will cause prices to increase is the annual switch to a summer formula. That switch occurs in the spring. McNeill said that when it happens, supplies tighten up and demand increases, causing a bump in price.
McNeill said that the only way prices would go down in the summer would be if consumption decreased. He said Thursday he hasn't seen much change in consumption.
"It has remained pretty high," McNeill said. "I thought it would have slowed up, but it hasn't."
Gas prices in Moore County and North Carolina have jumped in recent weeks to an average of $3.219. At some local stations, prices reached $3.259.
That increase, which mirrors the national average and is about 10 cents higher than normal, can be attributed to several factors, according to Tom Crosby, vice president for communications AAA Carolinas. Crosby said the biggest factor in the cost increase is the recent explosion at an oil refinery in Big Spring, Texas, that killed two.
The incident, which happened Feb. 18, has limited production at a refinery that reportedly produces 70,000 barrels of oil per day, with an annual average reaching 4 million tons.
"The fire," Crosby said, "cut off some of our supply and forced our prices higher."
The area is just now beginning to feel the increase. Pump prices have gone up nearly 7 cents in the last two weeks.
According to northcarolinagasprices.com, prices have increased more than 77 cents since last year. The prices have increased more than 30 cents in the previous month and more than six cents since last week, according to the site.
The highest gas prices can be found in the Northeast, the Northwest, Florida and California, where gas recently hit $4 a gallon. The lowest prices are in Missouri.
Schools Monitoring Situation
The Moore County school system is closely monitoring gas prices.
About 136 buses cover 10,000 miles daily to transport children to and from schools. Those totals don't include miles traveled by buses and vehicles transporting students and staff for daytime activities, field trips or athletic events.
That translates to 1,400 gallons of diesel fuel a day, or one 7,500-gallon tanker truck load per week.
"We spend about 24 grand for one tanker load," said Charles McDowell, executive supervisor for transportation for the district. "We are watching it closely every day. It can get rather expensive."
McDowell said the cost of fuel has risen from $3.06 per gallon to $3.21 in a week. The most McDowell can remember the school system paying for fuel was $3.35 per gallon last October.
The state pays for the cost of transporting children to and from school. Local funds are used to pay for activity buses, field trips and transportation for athletic teams.
"That is where it can hit locally," McDowell said. "Spring break is coming up, and that will help, but we've got some weeks to go."
McDowell estimates the school system will use 10-12 more tanker loads of gas to make it through the school year.
AAA Carolinas encourages motorists to take advantage of two Web sites the organization makes available free of charge.
The AAA Fuel Price Finder, viewed at aaa.com/fuelfinder, helps motorists find the cheapest gas prices in a three-, five- or 10-mile radius of their choosing.
The price data is derived from more than 85,000 individual stations throughout the United States based on recent credit card transactions, and is the same information AAA uses to track national, state and local gasoline price trends.
Another site, www.fuelcostcalculator.com, helps motorists budget estimated gas costs when planning a major drive vacation. Users can choose an originating city, a destination and the make and model of their vehicle to determine how much a round-trip drive would cost based on regional averages.
Crosby wasn't optimistic about prices going down any time soon.
"This hike is early and not part of what we normally experience," Crosby said. "Normally this time of year our demand is fairly low, and we don't have real high prices until later in the spring."
Later in the spring is when Crosby said the oil refinery in Big Spring could come back on-line. If it does, that increased production could offset the normal spring price jumps.
When asked what the future holds in terms of local prices, Crosby said $4 a gallon was "not going to happen," adding, "It's going to end up high, but there are so many factors, so you just don't know (how high)."
Crosby said increasing prices could have an adverse affect on travel.
"If prices continue to rise," Crosby said, "we could see the first significant cutback in driver behavior."
Gary Dixon of Southern Pines said he "absolutely" will adjust his driving habits if gas prices continue to rise.
"They are talking about $4 a gallon gas by the end of the year," Dixon said. "That is horrible. I am limiting where I need to go now. I will do more if prices continue to go up."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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