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Gas and greed - Joel Hall

I can't hold out anymore. After waiting a week and a half for gas prices to go down; after defiantly ignoring the gas light on my car's dashboard display, I will go to the gas station and angrily pay upwards of $70 at the pump.

Gas prices were already high before Hurricane Ike, but now, it is ridiculous. Last weekend, I literally saw the price of gas jump 50 cents at my favorite gas station from the time I went in to see a Saturday matinee, to the time I got out of the movie theater.

It's amazing, because up to three days before, every other gas station in the county was selling gas at about $4.17. This one, lonely gas station was selling gas at $3.73 cents at 2 p.m., in the afternoon. By 4:30 p.m., it had skyrocketed to $4.15.

Seeing this blatant display of midday price gouging leads me to believe that Hurricane Ike is not the cause of our current gas woes. It's greed, plain and simple.

I don't blame the local gas "dealers" as the root of the problem. I blame oil speculators. Some economists are predicting that 60 percent of the current price of oil is tied to speculation.

Right now, investors on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) can control about 1,000 barrels of crude oil (about $67,000 worth) for a little over $3,000. Savvy speculators are hoarding these futures in the hopes that they will be able to make a profit.

Gas stations, in an effort to make their bottom line and recover any money they may potentially lose, charge more at the pump, and thus, the customer suffers. This is one example of where we are drowning in our free market economy.

The spike in the price of gas doesn't make any sense because the price of oil is the lowest it has been in months.

Oil reached an all-time high at $147.27 a barrel on July 11. Last Friday, however, the price of oil fell below $100 for the first time since April. On Thursday, the price of a barrel of light, sweet crude was $96.70.

Hurricane Ike did put about a quarter of America's refineries off-line, thus making gas a little harder to find in certain places. I have seen plastic bags over many a gas pump this week.

However, I do not believe the hurricane is contributing to the soaring price of gas as much a we have been led to believe.

The price of gas is affecting every American family. Speculators, however, are currently treating oil like they are buying stock in Starbucks or Coca Cola.

It's a classic case of polishing off your fifth Monte Cristo sandwich and tenth slice of honeydew melon, not because your body needs it, but because you can.

Oil is a commodity, but right now, it is a commodity that everybody needs. Until the market stabilizes, investors should exercise more restraint, so that the people selling gas can do it at a price Americans can afford.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.