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No crude joke: Highest-ever seasonal gas prices hit Auburn

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Like drivers around the nation, Auburn motorists were pumping and grumping Monday – filling up on gas as high-priced as it’s ever been on a final day of February. AAA is saying gasoline prices shot up 4 percent over the past week around the nation to $3.29 a gallon. A survey of eight gas stations in Auburn showed a $3.678-a-gallon price for regular unleaded. Prices are usually low during the late winter months but that’s the highest ever for the last week in February. And with summer-fuel blends raising prices again in the hotter months and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa roiling oil markets and raising crude oil prices, experts are saying to expect more increases. Lana Schevchenko, owner of Bryan’s Auburn Florist, didn’t boost the business’s $8 delivery charge when gas prices last skyrocketed in the summer of 2008 and has no plans this time around either. “Everybody’s struggling,” Schevchenko said. “What gives us the right to raise prices too? We have to help each other out and if that means no raising prices so be it.” For driver Roy Price of Foresthill, higher fuel costs should be curtailed at the federal level. The nation isn’t short on gas and the Saudis have agreed to export more to make up for any losses in exports from Libya, he said. “The President and Congress need to step up and put a lid on gas prices,” Price said. “To go up 40 cents in a matter of days is ridiculous.” The rise in prices is going to be particularly hard on people with low-paying jobs who depend on their vehicles to get to work, he said. “They won’t be able to afford the gas to get to work,” Price said. “I think it’s a shame.” The Associated Press reported that analysts and economists are worrying that by lowering profits for businesses and reducing disposable income for drivers, high gasoline prices could slow the recovering economy. Over a year, analysts estimate, oil at $100 a barrel would reduce U.S. economic growth by 0.2 or 0.3 of a percentage point. Americans are less prepared to absorb the spike in gasoline prices than they were the last time prices rose this high, in 2008, because unemployment is higher and real estate values are lower, David Portalatin, a market research analyst, told AP. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com, told the Journal that the past week’s price-hike in crude oil has been built into pump prices so if nothing dramatic happens in the Middle East this coming week, no new spike would occur. But with higher costs for refiners to produce so-called “summer-gas” prices have risen an average of 52 percent between February and May over the past 10 years. That means another jump is expected this spring, he said. California’s prices are also squeezed by refineries that don’t historically use all of their capacity, DeHaan added. “By Memorial Day in California, we could see gas in many areas of California costing more than $4 a gallon and some areas flirting with $5,” DeHaan said. For Jerry Sauers, who owns Gold Country Shell on Lincoln Way near the Foresthill exit, high prices are also squeezing his business. To keep customers, gas-station owners drop their profit margins as prices rise, he said. As prices rise, so does the amount of gas that customers pump and the amount of money they spend for extras like soda and snacks at the business, he said. “We’re really a pawn because we can’t control gas or oil prices,” he said. There are alternatives to gas and motorist Elaine Reid of Auburn said options like alternative energy sources should be explored. “We’re far too dependent on foreign oil,” Reid said. The Associated Press contributed to this report. ----------------------------------------------------- Sticker shock at the pumps The Associated Press reports retail gasoline prices are at new highs for this time of year because of surging oil prices. Here’s a look at the average prices for a gallon of unleaded regular in Auburn and some other areas: -Hawaii $3.757 -Sacramento $3.68 - Auburn $3.678 - Alaska $3.665 - California $3.656 - Nationwide U.S. $3.34 - New Jersey $3.136 - Colorado $3.135 - Montana $3.028 Sources: AAA, GasBuddy.com and Auburn Journal reports