Friday, April 06, 2001

Gasoline costs soaring anew

By Tom O'Neill and James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ralph Stucky paid $1.19 for a gallon of gas on Wednesday.

        In Georgia.

        A day later, on his way home to the Cleveland suburb of Parma, Ohio, Mr. Stucky, 67, was startled as he began pumping at a BP station on Mason-Montgomery Road in Symmes Township.

[photo] Terica Lamb of Symmes Township fills up with premium-grade gas for $1.76 a gallon Thursday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “I can't believe this $1.56 crap,” he said Thursday, shaking his head as he filled the tank of his midsized sedan with regular unleaded. “This is quite a surprise, coming back to Ohio and seeing these prices.”

        BP's prices were identical to its nearest competitor, Shell. But if Mr. Stucky wants to see changes in gas prices, he's about to.

        After hitting a 2001 low of $1.31 on March 8, prices have steadily risen, to just over $1.50 currently. They've risen an average of 20 cents locally in the past two weeks, putting them just a bit higher than last year (when they were in the $1.46-$1.50 range). And they're going to continue to rise, experts said.

        The reason is simple: supply and demand.

        With many Tristate residents embarking on spring-break trips today and this weekend, demand will rise.

        Thursday's average price on the Ohio side of Greater Cincinnati was nearly $1.51 for a gallon of regular unleaded, slightly higher than the national average of $1.46, according to AAA Cincinnati and Oil Price Information Service, an independent oil industry newsletter. Northern Kentucky averages were not available, but OPIS will track them this year.

        Calling the current upswing “a worry run-up,” OPIS publisher Tom Kloza said the current spike could continue, since wholesale prices also have risen about 20 cents higher in the past two weeks.

        It generally takes about three to four weeks for retail prices to catch up, Mr. Kloza said.

        He said he wasn't too concerned about reports of lower gas stocks — the nation's gas stocks are about 10 million barrels lower than they were at this time last year — and said that probably won't have too great an impact on prices.

        “What really concerns me is that we make a relatively smooth transition from winter regular gas to summertime reformulated gas at the refineries,” said Mr. Kloza, referring to the cleaner-burning gas required in many major cities under the federal Clean Air Act.

        “Well, it's not going well right now,” he said. “And even if it all works out, there is a tendency to have a wall of worry early on, and that's what we're seeing and will continue to see.”

        He pointed to current production numbers that show U.S. refineries turning out nearly half a million barrels less daily than they did at this time last year.

        “That's a scary number,” Mr. Kloza said. “With spring break and Easter coming, gas prices will continue to go up dramatically this month.”

[photo] Gas prices in the Tristate will be heading up
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        Last summer, a more favorable economy led to more frequent and longer road trips. Higher prices followed, exceeding $2 throughout the Midwest and hitting an average high of $1.91 per gallon June 20.

        “Right now, they got us,” said Terica Lamb, 29, of Symmes Township, who gassed up her Honda at the BP moments before Mr. Stucky. She paid $1.76 per gallon for premium grade.

        “Got to get to work, but if I had a choice, I'd take it,” she said as her infant son, Quentin, looked out the back window.

        At the Marathon station in Lawrenceburg, Jim Hayes of Middletown filled his 27-gallon pickup and 50-gallon speedboat.

        “I figure I'll spend over $100 to do it,” he said. “I heard on the news that gas was going up. They said, "If you're planning to go on vacation, make sure you save enough to pay for gas.'”

        Ronald Krug of Brunswick, Ohio, pulled his Winnebago into the Marathon on his way south to Gulf Shores, Ala.

        “I was planning this trip for June, but decided to go now, in case prices go up,” he said. “Higher prices definitely cut down on the distances I travel.”

       Contributing: Staff reporter Chris Mayhew and contributor Jenny Callison.

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