Gas Prices Fall as Blame Rises
The recent 15-cent drop in gas prices has Moore County drivers breathing a little easier.
However, it still pays a bit more handsomely — as much as 20 cents a gallon better — to fill up if you’re outside the immediate area.
Moore County prices are considerably lower than earlier this spring when they were scraping the $4-a-gallon threshhold, but the county — especially the southern end — still stands out as having some of the highest gas prices in the state.
So while it’s better to be paying $3.25 a gallon these days in Southern Pines and Pinehurst, you can nevertheless go over to Cameron and find three stations on N.C. 24 offering gas between $3.02 and $3.08 a gallon.
Which begs the question: Why does this area continue to have higher gas prices?
The folks at AAA of the Carolinas, who know plenty about travel, get right to the heart of the discrepancy.
“It’s a lot of rich people playing golf, right? That’s why it’s more expensive,” said Tom Crosby, vice president of communication for AAA of the Carolinas. “If you have more money, they’re going to make you pay more.”
So vacation destinations get soaked, right? Not quite. In Wilmington, a fill-up is going for as low as $3.10 a gallon. And if you’re headed to the mountains, Asheville has some stations under $3.
If your travels call for you to be on the Interstate 85 or 40 corridor, you’ll also find gas at or below $3 a gallon.
Fuel retailers have routinely said they’re not to blame for the price discrepancies. In fact, station owners like Mobil Mart’s Chris Davis said he tries to keep his gas price a few cents lower than his competition. He has recently started buying fuel by the load from supplier Rex Oil.
The change from buying per gallon to the load has allowed Davis to drop his credit card surcharge and stay more competitive with other vendors.
“It’s a better deal,” said Davis. “Pretty much I’m now trying to stay cheaper than everyone else.”
Davis can’t account for the discrepancies in prices outside of the county. “[The prices] are closer than they were though,” he said.
If retailers, who routinely are making about a nickel for every gallon of gas sold, aren’t behind the inflated prices locally, and gas is all the same price once it exits the pipeline and enters storage farms, then the next question to ask is whether fuel wholesalers are behind the cost discrepancies.
Frank McNeill Jr., owner of the McNeill Oil Co. in Aberdeen, did not return phone calls and could not be reached for comment. McNeill owns five local convenience stores in Moore and provides fuel to five others here and in Hoke and Montgomery counties.
Back in February, when gas prices were on the rise, he said that, while he is the sole local distributor, he sells only about a tenth of the gas here. At the time, he said he was making about the same margin as other retailers.
Crosby, with AAA, puts the accountability of price discrepancies with the oil distributors.
“That is a decision,” he said, “made by the 12 companies that own 94 percent of the oil distribution in North and South Carolina.”
So while the blame needle seems to be zeroing in on the big distributors, consumers are left with little to do but enjoy whatever price respite they can.
“I was thrilled this morning when I filled up for $3.25 a gallon,” said Patrick Coughlin, president of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce.
Two factors could be helping to keep the damper on prices:
“Elections,” said Davis as to why the prices have been staying low.
Said Crosby: “Demand worldwide is down. The burden has been eased considerably.”
Coughlin believes that, if gas prices hold steady, consumers will see the impact in other prices as well. When gas prices spike, other products like food also rise because of the added cost of transportation.
“When gas goes back down, organizations are hesitant to mark their prices back down because of the uncertainty,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll see results at the grocery story and pizza delivery guy.
“But I think it will take some time for gas prices to be at that lower level.”
Davis has a better tip for being a well-informed gas consumer: “Watch gasbuddy.com.”
Contact Kirsten Ballard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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