Pump pain pinches plans

Area drivers weathering the storm of rising gas prices

By SCOTT LOCKWOOD
STAFF WRITER

As gas prices continue their roller coaster ride through 2013, area drivers have been taking a hit in the wallet of late, thanks to uncertainty in the Middle East and skyrocketing crude oil prices, experts say.

At the RaceTrac on State Road 776 Wednesday, Robin Flagel of Englewood, who owns a mobile pet-grooming business, was driving a Toyota FJ with a trailer.

“I probably put in between $20 and $30 a day (in gas),” she said. “I haven’t had to raise prices yet, but if it keeps going up — then yeah.”

Area prices for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $3.60 per gallon Wednesday, the same as a week ago, according to Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.

Laskoski said the national average is $3.66 per gallon, a figure that has gone down a penny in the last week. That follows a sharp increase from two weeks ago, when gas prices jumped more than 10 cents after a hike in crude oil prices. Mid-June, crude oil was trading at $93 per barrel, compared with $109 last Friday. Laskoski said crude oil was trading in the $107-per-barrel range this week.

“What we’re seeing now is the rate of increase actually flattening out, and that’s welcome news,” Laskoski said. “We might see a nominal increase, or we may just see things move very little, depending on what happens in Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal, that sees 3 million barrels of crude oil transported each day, or in the Atlantic Ocean with Tropical Storm Dorian.”

Wednesday in North Port, most stations along Tamiami Trail were charging $3.59 for a gallon of regular gas, with the North Port Walmart station trailing just behind at $3.58. Customers with a Walmart shopping card could fuel up for $3.55 per gallon.

North Port resident Pete Orr was gassing up his GMC truck — which he uses for his business of clearing out foreclosed homes — at the Shell gas station at 14290 Tamiami Trail. Orr spends about $50 per day in gas, and says he has spent more than $15,000 in fuel in the last year — by far his biggest expense.

“It’s killing me,” Orr said.

Bob Hawley said the increasing gas prices really haven’t impacted how much he drives. While filling up his 2003 Buick Rendezvous at the Walmart station on Tamiami Trail in North Port, he added, however, that the prices have changed how he travels with his significant other, who drives a 2006 Lincoln. They travel more in the Buick, which Hawley said he didn’t buy for the mileage, but because he wanted to be able to haul items.

“It’s ridiculous where these prices are going,” Hawley said. “There’s a lot of difference between here and other places like in Lakeland (Fla.), where it was 10 to 15 cents less.”

At the Englewood Shell station at 241 S. Indiana Ave., the price for a gallon of regular was $3.58. Tiffany Fesko, a teacher who lives in Venice, said “greed” was a big reason why gas prices are going up. She said it hurts her during the busy time of year for teachers, who are getting things in order for the upcoming school year.

“When we’re off for holidays and stuff, that’s when the gas prices always go up to the point where I almost can’t even go on vacation,” Fesko said. “I find myself sometimes having to ration. I can’t do the things I like to do, because the gas is so high. I end up sitting at home or having a ‘staycation.’”

Also at the RaceTrac on S.R. 776 in Port Charlotte, where gas was $3.59 for regular, Port Charlotte resident and landscape worker Steve Maksymiak working was filling up a Ford F-250 truck with three lawn mowers in the trailer. He said the gas prices make it hard for anyone in the lawn business to make money because customers, who are used to a set number, cannot be overcharged.

“When you start getting up to $3.50, it starts getting tough,” Maksymiak said. “The cost goes up, the oil cost and stuff like that — I mean just everything … to get parts, to get blades and all that, the factories gotta charge more, ’cause it’s costing them more to (transport) their things.”

At the 7-Eleven at Kings Highway and U.S. 41, Tom Boucher of Deep Creek said he purchased his boat, a Wollcraft Fisherman 232, in 2004, when gas was “half the price, so I use it less than half the time.” Regular was also $3.59 per gallon at the station.

“I’m retired, 71 years old,” Boucher said. “I’m on a fixed income and it’s not as enjoyable as I thought it would be.”

Laskoski said if Dorian approaches the Gulf of Mexico, it could create a lot of price volatility, because the storm will force the evacuation and shutdown of offshore oil rigs and refineries, causing a drop in supply. It typically takes a week to shut down a refinery, and as long as two weeks to bring it back online after a storm. Still, gas prices should not hit $4 per gallon anytime soon, Laskoski said.

“When that happens, that is when you usually see stormrelated gasoline price spikes,” Laskoski said. “They would be short-lived, but they could still be pretty steep.”

Dan Thompson of Englewood also was getting gas at the Englewood Shell on Indiana.

“I think it’s going to get higher,” he said “I’m retired from the military … When I was in Germany many years ago, gas cost this much. We’re just catching up with the rest of the world. I don’t think gas will be cheaper again.”

Staff writers Tom Chang and Ian Ross contributed to this report.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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