- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

Local drivers are cutting down on their driving when they can in the face of record-high gasoline prices, but say they can’t cut it out completely.

Average prices for a gallon of regular gasoline rose 12 cents, the largest jump in AAA Mid-Atlantic’s recent memory, to a record $2.54 in the D.C. area yesterday, according to the auto club.

Across the country, the cost of regular fuel rose 18 cents in a week to $2.55 per gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“It’s getting to the point where it’s limited our driving,” said Gil Castilla, a Maryland resident who spent $61 to fill his Ford F-150 truck at the Exxon Mobil station at 21st and M streets in Northwest yesterday.

“Some of my friends and family have limited their driving, canceling their trips to the beach,” he said.

George Gundes is more conscious of how much he drives now, reducing the number of times he travels from the District to his construction site in Fredericksburg, Va. He estimated one trip now costs him $10 in each direction.

“When gas was cheap, I didn’t worry about it too much. Now I try to minimize my trips,” he said.

Mr. Gundes used to treat his Range Rover to supreme fuel, but earlier this summer he switched to regular grade to save some money. It still cost him $63 to fill up his car yesterday.

Supreme fuel, the most expensive, is $3.04 per gallon at Exxon Mobil and averages $2.73 in the D.C. area.

Darien Darayand, a Reston resident driving through the District for work, said the high prices have made him more observant of gas stations when he is driving.

“My theory is when I see a cheap price, I fill it up … because in five days the prices could change, just like Washington politics — it changes every minute,” he said.

But even that doesn’t save very much. The average gasoline price in Maryland jumped 10 cents in one day yesterday to $2.53. Virginia recorded $2.43 across the state.

“We’re not finding any relief anywhere. There used to be safe havens, but there isn’t anymore,” said John Townsend, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman.

But other drivers still aren’t paying much attention to the cost.

“I’ve become accustomed to it,” said Robert Daye, a Bowie resident. “I’m not happy to pay it, but why stress the small stuff?”

Yesterday’s 12-cent jump is the largest one-day increase in recent memory and the 15th time the record was broken in the District in six weeks, Mr. Townsend said.

“The premium [fuel] price has already reached $3 in the District. That’s unheard of. We’ve never ever thought it would reach this,” he said. “There’s no oil shortage like in the ‘70s, no international crisis, nothing is driving this … profiteers are making record profits by fanning the flames of this.”

While high demand for gas is typical during the summer vacation season, the spike in prices has been attributed to the high price of crude oil and problems at refineries across the country, said Michael Burdette, an EIA analyst.

The price of crude oil fell 59 cents to $66.27 on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday.

A BP Amoco refinery in Texas City, Texas, has experienced a string of problems interrupting production, as well as problems at a Premcor refinery in Tennessee and electrical outages at a Conoco Phillips refinery in Illinois.

“Those incidents, if they happened in a time of the year when refinery utilization wasn’t quite as high, the others could fill in. This is a peak time of the year, and refineries are running the highest rate they can,” Mr. Burdette said.

Demand usually dips after Labor Day, bringing the average price down with it, but Mr. Burdette warned that crude oil prices, the largest factor in determining gas prices, are unpredictable.

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