Residents voice concerns over gas price increase

Published 5:33 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Gas prices in Atmore shot up an average of six cents per gallon in less time than it took to write this report, marking one of the biggest price jumps in recent history.
Gas station owners and operators are unsure what exactly is driving prices up, but many have theories and all agree that business is better when gas prices are lower. In fact, according to some operators they actually make less money as the prices rise.
Eartha Jones, assistant manager of the Diamond BP located at the corner of Medical Park Drive and Hwy. 31, said that gas prices are higher than they've been in the 14 years she has worked there.
"It (the price) is higher than I have ever seen it," Jones said.
Manager Judy Pugh, an employee of the service station for the last 18 years agrees. According to her, the station moves the price based on what the corporate office tells them to do.
"I've just heard it could go up to as much as $2 a gallon," she said. "When they call us we go up. We're still about the cheapest gas station in Atmore from what I hear."
In fact, Jones received a call from corporate during this interview to add five cents to the price of fuel.
Pugh said the rising costs did not seem to be affecting the need for fuel though.
"They're steady buying it," Pugh said. "We never have an empty parking lot."
Jimmy Luker, a customer from Monroe County said that prices were already higher there than they are in Atmore.
"This is a lot cheaper than Monroe County," Luker said.
Luker is not worried about the rising costs however.
"If you compare the average income for when the gas was 30 cents a gallon to the average income now, it's probably about the same percentage," Luker said. "We've still got it pretty good around here."
According to Robert Whitton, the owner of the Exxon station, located just off Interstate 65, prices are being driven by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).
"What we're looking at now is the results of something from a couple of years ago," Whitton, who has owned the station since 1979, said. "(Osama) Bin Laden put out on his network that oil going to America should be raised to $100 a barrel. They're trying to break our economy. All our money is being spent in other countries. Very little of this is going to American industries; most of it is going to Saudi Arabia."
In fact, the actual gas stations make very little profit at all.
"It's not us (gas station owners), we're struggling to keep our heads above water," Whitton said. "We're all in the same boat."
The reason OPEC has so much power over American fuel prices is that pretty much every American oil company is dependent on them.
"We are all in the same boat because of exchange," Whitton said. "One of the problems in this county is that due to environmental issues there are no more refineries being built and they can not keep up with supply and demand alone."
Dipak Patel, the owner of Spuds BP on Hwy. 21, said his prices had gone up in spurts over the past couple of weeks because of OPEC.
"The OPEC has got the production so that's why price is up," Patel said. "It went up six cents, then six cents then three cents; at those prices you don't make much money."
According to Patel as the prices go up more people are apt to steal gas.
"I'd like the price to go down," Patel said. "People can't afford these prices. We have a lot of drive-offs when the price is high. Yesterday we had two drive-offs and as the price goes up we will have more. No one can afford these prices."
Diane Burkette, the acting manager of Atmore Shell, does not know the reasons for the increase, but she does wish it would stop going up.
"They (the corporate office) call me up and say we have an increase, so I go out and change the sign," Burkette said. "I don't know why it's so high."
Customer Shirley West doesn't know the exact reasons for the oil increase, but she made an accurate guess.
"The price of oil is just going up," West said.
Diamond Exxon on Hwy. 21, just south of downtown, had their prices go up on Monday as well.
"We just got a call to do ours and it went up six cents," Oneika Parker, the store manager said. "It's something happening across the water over there I guess."
Autumn Hunley, a cashier at the Exxon station, believes the price increase is due to international problems.
"I think the prices are going up because of the war and everything," Hunley said.
A customer at that station, Pensacola resident Ed Tekel, is outraged by the rising fuel costs.
"I think it's out of control," Tekel said. "I think the government could do something to hold it at some level."
Whatever the cause of the gas increase, area fuel suppliers agree that prices will continue to rise over the next few months.

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