ANNAPOLIS – To protest rising gasoline prices, angry drivers are circulating a letter over the Internet urging people to refuse to buy gas Friday, in an event nicknamed “The Gas Out.”
But the effort is doomed before it starts, say local experts. The one-day boycott will have no effect on the increasing prices, which should reach a national average of $1.18 per regular unleaded gallon by next month.
“It’s time we did something about the price of gasoline in America!” said the electronic mailing, which seems to have originated in California. “If there was just one day when no one purchased any gasoline, prices would drop drastically. Let’s have a gas out!”
The letter has crisscrossed the country since its beginnings sometime in late February or early March, but efforts to find its author were unsuccessful.
Nationally, gasoline prices jumped from 91 cents per regular unleaded gallon in mid-February to an average of $1.15 per gallon now, fueling discussion across the country about Americans’ dependence on the resource.
In response, the protest message is traveling well. A search for “Gas Out” on the popular Internet discussion site www.dejanews.com retrieved more than 27,000 messages about the topic late last week.
“Please help us tell the big corporations we are tired of them taking us for fools,” pleaded one message.
But, many of the letters criticized the movement as ineffective and pointless.
“Do something constructive and get rid of your car for a year,” said one message.
“Will it make a difference? I don’t think so,” said another.
Fuel price monitors agree that the protest will do nothing to change prices.
“All that’s going to happen is people will buy more gas the day before and the day after,” said Myra Wieman, with the American Automobile Association in Maryland.
The Gas Out letter actually encourages this.
“Do not buy any gasoline April 30, 1999! Buy on Thursday before, or Saturday after,” it said. “Send this message to everyone you know. Ask them to do the same.”
This could create even higher prices for the fossil fuel, Wieman said.
“Gas prices could conceivably rise on the days before and after (April 30),” she said. “It could backfire on drivers.”
Fuel prices are determined by supply and demand, and refusing to drive would be the only possible means of forcing a price drop, said Jonathan Cogan, a specialist with the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.
“As long as Americans continue to consume fossil fuels in the fuel- inefficient vehicles we use, we will be subject to the market,” he said.
The nation’s rising prices are attributed to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ announcement that it plans to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day and the Feb. 23 explosion at a California oil refinery that forced gasoline buyers to seek alternative supplies.
While the prices on the West Coast are climbing as high as $1.71 per regular unleaded gallon, East Coast prices aren’t reaching such levels.
Though the national average for fuel prices in April is $1.15 per gallon, Maryland’s average is $1.08, Wieman said.
The state average is 10 cents higher than last month, but not really shocking, she said.
“We here on the East Coast are sitting pretty, so to speak,” she said. “We’re only 1 cent above where we were at this time last year. This is more of a national panic because the West really has a reason to panic.”
Gasoline prices are expected to average $1.13 nationally for the entire summer, 10 cents above the price last year but much cheaper than the $1.24 average just three years ago in 1996, Cogan said.