VALDOSTA — Gas prices continue to inch closer to their all-time high of $3.073 for regular unleaded in Valdosta.

Thursday’s average price at the pump was $2.820 in Valdosta compared to the national average of $2.850 and a statewide average of $2.818, according to AAA South.

The average price per gallon in Valdosta has risen 36 cents since last month and 68 cents since last year, according to AAA. Denise Brogden, owner of Five State Trucking, which has been in Valdosta for 11 years, says that the prices are hurting business operations, but they have no choice but to keep going.

Dipak Patel, owner of Gas N Go on Bemiss Road, said he is not expecting prices to come down any time soon. Akins Petroleum Co. is responsible for setting gas prices for Patel’s store, but he said they continue to go up every day.

Lowndes County Manager Joe Pritchard said that just as businesses with transportation tied to their products or services are affected by rising fuel prices, so, too, is local government. “While some businesses may pass that increase along to its customers, we are working from a fixed budget and must either curtail some services or eliminate items that are needed in other areas,” Pritchard said.

Average gas prices have risen every year since 2002, when the average was $1.31 per gallon. A number of factors contribute to the price of gas including taxes, distribution and marketing, refining and crude oil, but according to Randy Bly, director of Community Relations for AAA Auto Club South, the main problem affecting gas prices today is the rising price of crude oil.

Expensive Oil

AAA reported a rise in the price of crude oil to over $73 per barrel Friday as the market continues to see record breaking prices. Also causing an upward shift in gas prices is the ever-increasing demand as well as instability in international relations with Iran, which is causing concern among traders, Bly added.

“All of this occurring at the same time is placing huge upward pressure on the price of gasoline,” Bly said.

Another change citizens will soon notice at the pump is the elimination of MBTE, an oxygenate originally added to gasoline to create cleaner combustion, according to the Environmental Literacy Council. The Environmental Protection Agency has required a switch from MBTE to ethanol. Before a station is scheduled to receive its first shipment of the newly required fuel, all of the ground tanks must be completely cleaned out and freed of any sediment or contaminants to make it safe for the ethanol to be stored.

Stations may have to shut down their pumps for a day or two to be prepared for the new shipments. This may cause other stations to raise prices due to a higher demand for gas in surrounding areas. The switch may take place within the next few weeks, AAA stated.

For future weeks and months, Bly predicts a stabilizing of gas prices once spring break traffic slows and Memorial Day approaches. He stated that while oil refineries shut down during the spring to switch from winter formula gasoline to summer formulas, gas prices may rise. This process should be done before the Memorial Day holiday. However, the holiday also signals the beginning of summer travel during which prices may heighten due to increases in demand. Bly also noted the market may shift in the coming weeks due to concerns regarding negative predictions for the upcoming hurricane season.

Public concern

A number of citizens expressed concern and dismay regarding the difference in pricing between gas stations in town.

“I can’t understand why one station can sell their gas for $2.89 and 10 seconds down the road the price jumps 10 cents,” one citizen said.

Bly noted a number of factors that could contribute to the differing prices in town. If one gas station runs out of gas quickly and receives a new shipment on a daily basis, those new shipments cost more as crude oil prices rise each day. Similarly, a station that does not turn over gas as quickly may be pulling from a shipment that was less expensive for a greater length of time. Stations also vary based on location due to competition, difference in property taxes or cost of living. Additionally, volume sales may allow a station to drop their price slightly.

Despite the rising costs, tourism appears to continue and even grow on average each year. The price of gas at Trax on Ashley Street was $2.89 per gallon. A VSU student who was filling up there said that the rising prices cause a dent in his wallet, but it is difficult not to travel to go see family or to go on a trip for spring break.

If a person chooses not to cancel travel plans based on rising prices, there are a number of things that can be done to conserve gas. “The biggest savings are in our own driving habits,” Bly said.

Driving the speed limit, avoiding sudden starts and stops, limiting use of the air conditioner, keeping vehicles up to date with maintenance and keeping proper air pressure in tires can all add up to big savings when it comes time to fill up the tank.

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