Gas prices skyrocket and may go higher

However, AAA and Oil Price Information Services are at odds regarding gas shortages and breaking the record for gas consumption.

According to AAA spokesperson John Townsend, gas prices have been increasing over the past three weeks due to refinery maintenance in preparation for making the “summer blend” gasoline.

Maintenance in the refineries includes flushing out the pipelines of any kerosene the “winter blend” gasoline may have left behind to avoid contaminating the “summer blend” gasoline.

Townsend said maintenance at the refineries in the Midwest may cause shortages in gas supply. These refineries supply the East Coast.

Townsend also said the maintenance for these refineries may also affect which ones are “offline,” which, in turn, may affect how the supply of oil meets the demand.

Townsend also said the shortage from the Midwest refineries may amount to a loss of 298,000 barrels a day. The predicted demand for oil is 3.5 million barrels a day nationwide.

However, OPIS spokesperson Tom Kloza said he does not predict a shortage. Kloza also said there are “plenty of refinery capabilities.”

“Under most circumstances, anyone who is talking about shortages of gasoline, they’re just rooting for the market to go higher,” Kloza said.

Kloza also pointed out there are other factors that determine the price of gas other than the maintenance of the refineries. One of these factors includes crude oil prices.

“Crude (oil) got down to about $26.10 and then it got back above $40 and now it’s (at) about $38 or $39. But an increase of $15 per barrel for crude is the equivalent of say 34 or 35 cents a gallon in the real cost of gasoline,” Kloza said.

Though Kloza said this was the “cheapest first quarter” for gasoline prices since the first quarter of 2004, Townsend said high demand may also push gas prices up to a nationwide average of $2.40 or $2.60.

“We expect to set new driving records this year. In the first three months we’ve seen people driving more than they’ve been in years,” Townsend said.

Townsend said shortages in gas supply and increased travel during the spring and summer may cause gas prices to increase.

“Where we live, we consume more gasoline than anywhere else in the country,” Townsend said.

Kloza, however, said the chances of breaking the record for oil consumption is “fifty-fifty”

“I think demand is higher, and our own internal surveys show that it’s higher. But we (OPIS) show that it’s higher by about 1 percent or so. And there’s actually some economic data that gets published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that is showing smaller increases (in demand) year over year,” Kloza said.

Kloza also said the data from the energy department, which suggests the demand to have increased by 4 or 5 percent, are “weekly estimates.”

“Weekly estimates can (have) very, very low definition and low resolution,” Kloza said.

Meanwhile, on March 25, gas prices at the Exxon gas station on North Washington Street in Rockville and at the Shell gas station right next to it increased from $1.99 to over $2 for regular gas within 24 hours.

A County police officer, who declined to give his name, said he usually doesn’t go to either of these stations, but the prices at the Shell gas station were the cheapest ones he could find in the area.

“I go to the one on Whitfield. (The prices were) $2.13 I think it was. Maybe I wasn’t seeing right but it was definitely over two dollars. Just a while ago it was $1.75 or $1.80,” the officer said.

Montgomery College student Evelyn Martinez said she has been driving less and has been using the college shuttle bus to get to her classes on different campuses.

“I’ve been driving less. I usually don’t take my car to campus because the shuttle (bus is available). (I take shuttle) two time a week, two times here (Rockville campus) and then back (Germantown campus),” Martinez said.

According to College Park resident Montserrat Tapies, the gas is often cheaper at College Park, but she had to fill her car’s tank in Rockville due to an emergency.

“I’m not going to fill it (the tank) all up here. Since I have to go see my daughter, I’m going to finish filling it up there. I usually go to College Park where it costs $1.90 (or) $1.95. But I got out of the house today the tank was at the minimum so I needed to fill it up immediately,” Tapies said.

Virginia resident Nancy Gene said she expected the gas prices in Maryland to be lower than those in Virginia. To her surprise the gas prices in Maryland are not that far from the prices in Virginia.

“Maryland really surprised me,” Gene said.