Erie Times-News (Pennsylvania)
Erie area drivers are digging deeper than ever before to buy a gallon of gas.
And they might have to dig deeper yet.
A 10-cent overnight jump had drivers paying record high pump prices Thursday. Prices were $3.19 to $3.21 a gallon at most local stations.
And with crude oil prices hitting $100 a barrel for the second straight day in futures trading, most experts and analysts expect those pump prices to go higher.
“Four dollars a gallon. That’s what people are saying,” said John Wood, a retiree who lives in the Pymatuning Lake area of Crawford County and who was not happy with the price he found at a Meadville-area Country Fair station.
“These prices are terrible,” Wood said, as he pumped $3.19-a-gallon gas into his minivan. “It’s a good thing I retired. I couldn’t afford to drive back and forth to work.”
At 2505 Buffalo Road in east Erie, Dan Ettwein pumped $3.19-a-gallon gas at the station his grandfather founded more than a half-century ago and listened to his customers’ reactions.
Some don’t care and just don’t pay attention to the price, he said. “Others throw a fit — like I can do something about it.”
He added that he doesn’t know how high gas prices are going.
But with crude oil prices closing at $99.18 on Thursday, Ettwein has a good idea which way prices are headed.
“I’m assuming they are going to go up some more,” he said.
AAA regional spokeswoman Beverly Powell said high gas prices now might mean even more bad news in spring.
“This is usually the time when you see the lowest prices of the year. It doesn’t bode well for what might come later,” Powell said.
Drivers on Thursday were paying more than they were after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast oil production in August 2005.
That natural disaster pushed prices at most local stations to about $3.20 a gallon for a few days.
Worldwide demand for oil and political unrest in oil-producing nations are some of the factors behind the current escalation in prices.
But Judy Dugan says there is more to it than that. She believes today’s $100-a-barrel oil is the product of out-of-control market speculation.
“Unregulated energy markets are an international Wild West of speculative gambling,” said Dugan, research director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a California-based consumer organization that tracks energy issues.
“After Katrina, oil hit $50 and analysts were calling it a bubble. Now we are at $100 and there is no justification for it,” Dugan said.
Dugan’s group is calling for Congress to close a loophole in the law that allows traders on electronic markets to avoid the type of reporting that is required of traders on traditional markets, like the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Dugan said gas in her neighborhood was going for $3.31 a gallon Thursday, and said that without some market regulation, prices will go even higher.
“There is no way we can avoid $4 a gallon and up this year,” she said.
Crawford County retiree Wood said he bought a tankful of home heating oil just before the prices skyrocketed, and said he isn’t going to buy another.
“I have a wood burner that I am going to use,” he said.
Meanwhile, Katie Gerard, of Venango Township, pumped $3.19-a-gallon gas in her Chevrolet Cavalier at the Sheetz near Edinboro, and said the jump has made her commute to classes at Tri-State Business Institute more expensive.
“This is really tough on people like college students and people who make minimum wage,” said Gerard, who holds jobs at an Erie retail store and an Edinboro fast-food restaurant in addition to going to school.