Gas prices rise again

By Ed Brock

The latest rise in gasoline prices elicits a bemused shake of the head from Zachary Taylor of Jonesboro.

"It just keeps going up out of nowhere," Taylor said.

Inside the Phillips 66 gas station at Jonesboro Road and Battlecreek Road in Jonesboro where Taylor was filling his tank, manager Rick Puri said he's been feeling the heat from the increase.

"The customers are very upset about it," Puri said. "The prices are going up because the sources we buy from are going up, too."

The national price for all three grades of gasoline combined was $1.58 on last Friday, up 7.1 cents since Dec. 19, according to the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 stations nationwide.

In the same period, retail diesel prices increased 3.3 cents per gallon, to $1.63. It was the first significant increase since early October and reflected recent demand for heating oil, according to industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of California.

Lundberg included rising crude oil prices and colder weather that drove up demand for home heating oil as reasons for the increase. Those were two of the same reasons given by Ric Cobb, executive director of the Georgia Petroleum Council, a lobbying group for the industry in Georgia.

"We have the lowest crude oil inventories since the mid-1970s," Cobb said.

Lower inventories, combined with the need for heating oil, means the demand is higher than the supply and that means higher prices. The prices started increasing around Jan. 7, Cobb said.

For the past 20 days the cost of oil has been above $28 a barrel, Cobb said, and that's "very unusual." Also, Cobb said that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has no plans to increase production.

About 60 percent of America's crude oil is imported, Cobb said.

Politics also play a role in the recent gas price increase, Cobb said. Much of the gasoline we use comes from Venezuela and strikes and political difficulties have recently beset that country.

"Our gas imports from Venezuela have dropped to virtually nothing so we have to get that from somewhere else," Cobb said.

Also, drivers in the Atlanta area, who were paying prices starting around $1.45 for gas, buy a special "boutique" gasoline.

"It's a unique fuel that only Atlanta gets ? because of the (Environmental Protection Agency) ozone non-attainment problem," Cobb said, referring to the city's ozone levels being above EPA standards. "The fuel the 45 county area is getting is 12 or 16 cents higher (to produce) than regular gasoline."

Cobb said that not all of that cost is passed along to the consumer.

The all-grades retail average price of gasoline was 8 cents higher than it was this time last year and 2.5 cents below the average price for 2003.

The national weighted average price of gasoline, including taxes, at self-serve pumps Friday was about $1.55 for regular, $1.65 for midgrade, and $1.74 for premium.

Rising gas prices weren't a problem for Melvin Pryor of Jonesboro, another customer at the Phillips 66 Puri manages.

"I just do a little driving," Pryor said. "A tank of gas will last me a month."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.