County, businesses adjusting to gas prices

By Ed Brock

In front of the Domino's Pizza on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, General Manager Charlie Perry planted a sign.

On it is written "$2 a gallon! Don't waste your gas, let us deliver."

"That was just my idea to have a little fun with the situation," Perry said.

As members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries talked about increasing production in an effort to moderate rising gas prices, the cost of gasoline in Clayton County remained around $2 a gallon, albeit with a slight decrease. The ongoing high prices are affecting Perry's business, but not necessarily in a negative way.

"Our carry-out has gone down by about 10 percent since the prices really started going up," Perry said.

That means more people are having their pizzas delivered rather than picking them up. And while the drivers have to pay for their own gas (they also receive $1.25 per trip for mileage expenses), Perry said the situation works out better for them.

"More runs means more tips, more money for them," Perry said.

It's not the gas prices that are harming business for Danny Nation's company City Cab of Forest Park.

"We're pretty much having to pass it off to our consumers," Nation said.

However, too much competition from the county's C-Tran bus service and other cab companies, along with the bad economy, are giving him trouble. He makes up for it with contract work for medical transport companies, hospitals and trucking companies.

"That's what helps me out a lot," Nation said.

With nearly 1,200 gas burning vehicles in its fleet such as police, fire and other vehicles, the county is concerned about the cost, Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said.

"We watch it every day," Bray said. "Right now we're almost right at our budget."

The county can either increase the line item amount for gas expenses in the budget or decrease its fuel usage. Since cutting back on usage is hard to do, ray said they would be looking at that line item during the budget review this month. The county has also been using natural gas-fueled vehicles, such at the C-Tran buses and some trucks, but they have a mixed record.

"They run economically but they're hard to crank in the winter time," Bray said.

Unless there is some disruption in the service, like a break in a pipeline or a refinery fire, gas prices should remain stable, Georgia Petroleum Council Director Ric Cobb said. And the news that OPEC is increasing production was interesting news.

"When they increase production that would normally help us out," Cobb said.

While Saudi Arabia already is boosting its oil production, the United Arab Emirates announced Wednesday that it, too, plans to produce more oil.

"In order to calm the heat of prices, the United Arab Emirates has taken a decision to increase production by over 400,000 barrels a day. But, of course, we have to discuss it with our counterparts with OPEC," said Oil Minister Obaid bin Saif al-Nasseri of the United Arab Emirates.

"This aims to put a limit on the boiling prices," he said on arrival at Beirut airport. The Emirates' quota under OPEC is 2.051 million barrels a day.

The weekend attack on oil-related offices and foreign workers in the eastern Saudi oil hub of Khobar stoked fears the Saudi government, which controls the world's largest proven crude reserves, cannot protect its vital oil installations.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi argued that his country was taking adequate steps to protect its most important facilities.

Naimi said that his country was trying to help lower prices but argued that OPEC was not to blame for the runaway market.

"Contrary to what some believe, OPEC cannot always control prices," he said. "OPEC's role is limited to working to achieve a balance between supply and demand in the crude oil market. But the prices are controlled by the market and are affected by many factors."

Saudi Arabia is already boosting its own production independently of OPEC. Naimi said earlier that he would urge the group to raise its output ceiling by as much as 2.5 million barrels a day, or 11 percent.

OPEC pumps more than a third of the world's oil, and its talks in the Lebanese capital are drawing unusually close attention. Crude prices have soared in recent weeks due to a combination of strong global demand, low inventories in importing nations and fears about instability in key oil-producing states in the Middle East.

OPEC President Purnomo Yusgiantoro said OPEC was already pumping 2.3 million barrels above its current quota of 23.5 million barrels. Several OPEC members are pumping near their limits, and Saudi Arabia accounts for most of the group's unused capacity. The group is using 88 percent of its total capacity, he said.

"What we would like to see is which countries now still have spare capacity ... before we decide on a quota increase," Purnomo said.

Oil prices eased somewhat early Wednesday, slipping 37 cents to $41.96. That came a day after a surge on Tuesday, the first day of trading on major markets since the Khobar attack. U.S. light crude for July delivery climbed $2.45 to $42.33 per barrel ? the highest settlement price in the contract's 21-year history on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.