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By STEVEN NALLEY
Ricky Tate has retired from Mississippi State University, but that hasnât stopped him from taking up a private plumbing business with his brother, Kevin Tate. The price of gasoline, however, is slowing him down.
âItâs hard to get people to put up extra money for gas,â Ricky said. âThat often ends up coming out of our own pocket.â
Smiling, Kevin then added, âWeâll be looking for a wagon and a mule if it goes any higher. Thatâs all we (will be able to) afford.â
Average gas prices in Mississippi have risen more than 20 cents in the past week and more than 45 cents in the past month, part of a nationwide gas price hike that even the industryâs top analysts are struggling to explain.
As of Thursday, MississippiGasPrices.com reported a state average gas price of $3.64 per gallon, compared with $3.44 one week before and $3.18 one month before. The site also reported a national average of $3.73 Thursday, compared with $3.61 a week ago and $3.27 a month ago. Prices in Starkville reported on the site ranged from $3.59 to $3.72 Thursday.
Curt Crissey, owner of multiple BP stations in Starkville, said he could not explain the price increases, and neither could any colleagues he had talked to. He said he found it especially unusual that he saw no specific news items to point toward â no sudden increases in conflict in oil-exporting Middle Eastern countries or natural disasters destroying oil infrastructure.
âIâve asked my suppliers; Iâve asked everyone I could ask,â Crissey said. âI canât tell you. I really donât know. Most people are going to tell you they donât know.â
Gasoline retailers have minimal influence on the price of gasoline. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that 9 percent of gasolineâs price comes from distribution and marketing and 68 percent of it derives from the price of crude oil. As such, AAA spokesperson Don Redman said the two factors most likely to drive up gas prices were increases in crude oil prices or significant drops in gasoline inventory. Neither of these appeared to be the cause this time, he said.
âCrude oil has been vacillating between $95 and $97 per barrel. Itâs high, but itâs been steady,â Redman said. âRight now, inventory of gas is slightly above average for this time of year. This is usually when you have significant drawdown on gas inventories. Youâll have scheduled closures of refineries where they perform important maintenance work.â
The drawdown also tied into the change of seasons, Redman said, because blends of gasoline used in the winter differed from those used in the summer. He said Environmental Protection Agency regulations required a different gasoline mixture for summer months that reduced air pollution, and the transition to these fuels typically happened in April and May, bringing with them the highest gasoline prices of the year.
So, he said he and other analysts were surprised to see such an increase in February, and they, like Crissey, struggled to pinpoint the cause.
âWeâre at historic high prices for this time of year,â Redman said. âThe run-up right now runs contrary to anything weâve seen in the past. Itâs unprecedented for this time of year to have prices run up this high without there being a significant war or disruption of oil lines or refineries going offline. That is what is confounding analysts.
Truthfully, (these increases have) many analysts scratching their heads.â
At this time, Redman said, AAA stood by a prediction by the U.S. Department of Energy that the national gas price average would peak at about $3.90 this year. He said itâs possible that the spring fuel blend transition could simply be starting early. If not, he said, the transition could drive prices even higher when it did arrive.
Consumers at Starkvilleâs gas stations reported varying responses to high gas prices. Emily Strickland, a freshman majoring in kinesiology at MSU, only filled up her carâs tank a fraction of the way, and she said it was because filling it completely was too expensive.
âI live on campus, so I donât use my car as much. I just get (the gasoline) I need from time to time,â Strickland said. âYouâve got to save your money. I donât have as much money to spend on things I want.â
Wes Gordon, a fundraiser for the MSU Foundation, said he saw no point in worrying about gas prices, because those prices would not change his travel needs.
âIâve got to get where Iâve got to go. It is what it is,â Gordon said. âIâm not one of those people whoâs going to drive 10 miles out of the way to save two pennies on gas.â
Robert Guy, like Ricky Tate, is a retiree who went into business for himself, hauling dirt as a construction contractor. The price of gas was bad for business, he said, but he, too, believed it couldnât be helped. Guy is 72 years old, and he said he believed strongly in the importance of staying active in retirement.
âYouâve got to ride. At my age, I canât just sit still and do nothing,â Guy said. â(But), if it gets up to $4 (per gallon,) Iâll have to leave the job alone and go fishing. To tell the truth, Iâd get more enjoyment out of fishing anyway.â