- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Gasoline prices have increased 22.6 cents since Feb. 25 the biggest four-week jump in at least 12 years as crude oil costs climb and the economy continues to recover.
The spike has frustrated consumers, who did not expect to pay this much for gasoline until the height of the summer travel season. Gas station owners, in the meantime, are crying foul over the oil industry's explanations for the spike.
The average price of a gallon of self-serve, regular gasoline in the United States was $1.34 yesterday, compared with $1.12 a gallon four weeks earlier, the federal Energy Information Administration said in its weekly price report.
In the mid-Atlantic region, the average price of gas increased 17 cents, from $1.14 a gallon on Feb. 25 to $1.31 on March 25, the agency said.
The four-week jump beats the previous record set April 23, 2001, when the price had increased 21.5 cents, said Jonathan Cogan, a spokesman for the agency. The agency started monitoring gasoline prices across the nation every week in 1990.
The prices are based on surveys the agency does at gas stations across the nation.
The government did not expect consumers to pay this much for gasoline until the summer.
In March, the Energy Information Administration projected gas prices would peak this year at $1.33 in June. The agency will release revised projections for summer on April 8, Mr. Cogan said.
Gas prices have risen because the cost of crude oil has gone up, according to John C. Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group.
The price of crude oil, the most important ingredient in refining gasoline, increased 18 cents in the past month, Mr. Felmy said. The price of a barrel of crude oil is about $25, compared with $20 a barrel a few weeks earlier.
Crude-oil prices leveled off last week, but the price of gasoline continued to rise.
"This has been a long-term increase in crude oil prices, and there are different lees and lags as it flows through the system," Mr. Felmy said.
Other reasons for the price spike at the pump include increased demand for gasoline because of the recovering economy, Mr. Felmy said.
In addition, the oil industry has grown increasingly worried about possible U.S. military strikes in Iraq, he said.
"There is real uncertainty in the petroleum markets about the Middle East," Mr. Felmy said.
The price spikes have left consumers and gas station dealers fed up.
"There is a sentiment in the public that the oil companies are taking advantage of the situation. That should be a concern for the industry," said Justin R. McNaull, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, a private group that lobbies on behalf of the nation's automobile drivers.
Gas station dealers pass the cost of higher wholesale prices onto consumers, said Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades, a trade group for station owners.
"The oil companies give these same reasons for higher prices every spring. A lot of the dealers are skeptical," Mr. Littlefield said.
The Federal Trade Commission concluded a lengthy investigation into rising gasoline prices last year and concluded there was no evidence to support accusations of gouging at the pump. A spokesman for the commission said yesterday he could not discuss any possible new investigations and the agency does not comment on ongoing investigative matters.
A spokesman for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said it has no immediate plans for hearings on rising gas prices.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce referred calls to the office of Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, who is chairman of the panel's subcommittee on energy and air quality. Mr. Barton's spokeswoman said no hearings are planned.

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