Saturday, August 14, 1999

Gas price highest in 2 years

Chevron fire contributes to sudden jump

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Brace for sticker shock at the gas pump if you're traveling this weekend.

        Prices are at their highest level in two years, according to the Lundberg Survey, which analyzes prices at 10,000 gas stations nationwide.

        Locally, prices shot up dramatically — and virtually overnight. Mike Kunnen, president of the Greater Cincinnati Gasoline Dealers Association, said the average price of an unleaded gallon of gas jumped 15 cents, from $1.12 a gallon at mid-week to $1.27 a gallon Friday.

        In February, a gallon of gas cost 92 cents.

        Denise Shell of Sharonville noticed the big price increase late Thursday, when she stopped to pick up lottery tickets and fill her Dodge Shadow.

        “It's like, "Whoa! You've got to be kidding.' Our little car took almost $20,” she said. “Isn't it disgusting?”

        A fire Tuesday at a Chevron oil storage terminal in Texas is partially to blame for the price increases, analysts say. The fire forced Chevron to stop the flow of crude oil into its pipelines in Wortham, Texas, said spokeswoman Mickey Driver.

        Clark Refining and Marketing Inc. uses that pipeline to receive about 70 percent of the oil it converts to gasoline at its Lima, Ohio, refinery. The gas is marketed to wholesalers, who sell it throughout the Midwest.

        The refinery is taking in crude oil from another supplier and is tapping into its reserves. It will take the company two tofour weeks to get the pipeline up and running, said Suzanne Miller, a Clark spokeswoman.

        No one is predicting an end to the escalating prices. Now is the height of the summer driving season, experts said. It's also a time when inventories are at their lowest levels.

        “Lower refinery production means less gas, which means higher prices,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst with Pegasus Econometric Group in New York City.

        It's those higher prices that are squeezing consumers.

        “Believe me, when you retire, you've got to budget. It does take away from your traveling when they pull this,” said Fairfield resident Merle Bates, filling up at the Thornton's station on Princeton-Glendale Road in Butler County's Union Township.

        Phil Freihofer, 27, of Crescent Springs, works for a builder and says his trips from one subdivision to another cause him to fill up about every two days.

        “It adds up quickly,” he said. “Twenty cents makes a difference. (But) there's not a whole lot I can do about it.”

        Ms. Shell and her family plan to travel to Tennessee in a couple of weeks. She's keeping a close eye on gas prices.

        “Especially with it being vacation time now, it kind of puts a damper on things,” she said. “I just hope they're down by then.”

        Reporters Kristina Goetz and Rachel Melcer contributed.


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