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Gas prices reach new high
AREA — Gas prices are now more than a dollar higher than they were a year ago, and Oxford County residents are paying even more than most when they fill up.
According to industry watchdog, gasbuddy.com, the average price for a gallon of gas in Maine is up to $3.96, which is four cents higher than the national average. A year ago, the cost was $2.91 in Maine.
The website finds the worst prices in the far north, as Aroostook County has an average price of $4.05 per gallon.
Oxford County is tied with Washington and Hancock for the next-highest prices, with an average of $4 per gallon, while Sagadahoc residents pay the least at $3.90.
An informal sampling of area gas stations in Oxford, Norway, and Paris on Monday showed scant difference among prices.
The majority, including Cumberland Farms and Mallard Mart in Norway, as well as Citgo and the Circle K in Paris, were charging about $3.93 per gallon for regular fuel.
The Irving gas station in Oxford and the Shell station in Paris came in at a penny cheaper, or $3.92 per gallon, while the cheapest gas in the area was to be found at Doe's on Route 26 in Paris, and Amato's, on Route 26 in Norway. They both had prices of $3.90 per gallon.
On Monday, the cheapest gas in the state, according to mainegasprices.com, was to be found at Brewster's Micromall in Ogunquit, at a cost of $3.75 per gallon.
The cheapest average prices in the northeast can be found in certain New Hampshire counties, where the cost is still a hefty $3.81.
Of course, differences of a few cents a gallon are far less impactful when the prices are higher. When gas costs a dollar a gallon, as it did 20 years ago, a five-cent different in price amounted to a 5 percent difference. Today, a five-cent difference in price only comes to a 1.25 percent difference, which makes it less worthwhile to bargain-shop.
Perhaps the most troubling thing about the cost of gas is that the increases show no signs of stopping. Prices have risen by about seven cents in the last week alone, and graphs show consistent increases since October, when the price was a comparatively paltry $2.66.
Station owners hurt
Mike St. Hilaire owns the Buckfield Mall, an independent gas station in Buckfield where prices have crested the $4 mark recently.
He says that the prices have hurt both him and his customers.
"People come in and they're scrounging with change and everything else," said St. Hilaire. "They're not buying stuff when they come in and get gas. They're just trying to put in enough gas to get to work and back."
St. Hilaire noted that high gas prices don't result in increased revenues for the retailer.
"We don't make it in gas. We make it in everything else," he said.
Ginger Duryea of the fuel company CN Brown agrees that high gas prices are bad for business, for a host of reasons.
"We never like to see the prices escalate as they have," said Duryea. "It never bodes well for the local gas station owner."
She says that increased gas prices result in increased credit card vendor fees, which are assessed as a percentage of the total sale.
"If the credit card fee is 2.5 percent, if the gasoline is a dollar, then the credit card fee would be 2.5 cents," said Duryea. "But if the price of the product is $4, the fee is 10 cents a gallon."
Duryea says that the difference comes out of her company's bottom line.
"On a great day, I might be making 12 cents a gallon gross," she said. "When [prices go up], I'm making 2 cents, and then I'm supposed to pay for my lights and my personnel and everthing else."
Duryea also noted that gasoline theft worsens as the price goes up, and that customer-employee relations can sour.
"Customers are unhappy and they blame us and they take out their frustrations on our employees," she said.
In Buckfield, St. Hilaire says that, in his nine years in the business, he has seen prices like this before, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
St. Hilaire says that, this time around, the cause of the record prices has nothing to do with a natural disaster and everything to do with Wall Street greed.
"They're [prices] gonna get worse," he predicted. "The speculation market and all those guys in the stock market are driving them up."
Duryea agrees that stock market speculation has hurt consumers at the gas pump.
"You have these funds that are managed by fund managers and their job is to make more money for the people who have bought stocks in their fund," she said. "That's their job., The speculators work around the clock to create mayhem to make it sound worse so that the prices go up. They're making more money for the people who have invested in their funds."
Duryea says that the burden is on Washington legislators to fight this problem by regulating speculation by others on the market.
She also said that the problem is aggravated by a weakening of the US dollar in international markets, and by laws which prevent oil drilling in the United States.
According to Maine's Office of Energy Independence, up to 30 percent of gas costs can be avoided through improved vehicle maintenance, and driving behaviors.
The first, and most impactful, decision can be what kind of car to purchase, with some vehicles getting 10 miles per gallon, and others getting 70 miles per gallon. Other vehicle maintenance recommendations include keeping your car well-tuned, changing the oil frequently, maintaining proper tire inflation, and switching to radial tires.
Other driving recommendations are to avoid multiple cold starts by combining multiple errands into one trip, avoid unnecessary idling, remove unnecessary weight from the vehicle, and avoid sudden starts and stops in favor of smooth acceleration and deceleration.