ANNAPOLIS – With the summer driving season approaching, gasoline prices have begun to increase dramatically in both Maryland and across the country.
Maryland has seen a 33 cent increase in the average price for a gallon of unleaded gas between March and April. Even though an increase is usually expected this time of year, the jump in prices has been much more noticeable this spring, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Last year the price rose 20 cents and in 2004 the price increased only 5 cents per gallon of unleaded gas between March and April.
As of Friday, it cost $2.64 for a gallon of unleaded gas in Maryland while it was only $2.31 a month ago. The national average price of gas was $2.34 a month ago, but had risen to $2.61 as of Friday.
Pumping gas at an Annapolis filling station, Alonzo Barrett, a supervisor for a gutter company who commutes from Washington, D.C., to Annapolis, called the increases “ridiculous.” He said he tries to get his gas in Annapolis because it’s about 6 or 7 cents cheaper than in Washington.
“It’s supply and demand, what can you do?” Barrett said. “You need gas.”
Shifts in gas prices can be caused by many factors, said Amanda Knittle, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
“Geo-political events (cause changes), when we entered into the conflict in Iraq there were concerns about fuel shortages and prices went up,” she said. “Demand drives prices, and typically demand is highest during the summer.”
March is also usually a month when prices go up because refineries are switching over to their summer fuel blends, making them revamp production, Knittle said.
This summer is different because most oil producers are switching from MTBE to ethanol to make their summer blends because MTBE has been shown to contaminate groundwater, she said.
Motorists like Shannon Kumar, of Odenton, say they are aware of the coming switch from MTBE to ethanol as well. She said she has heard that the switch will be responsible for the price of gas going to more than $3 by the end of the summer.
“Do I believe it? I don’t know,” Kumar said while pumping gas at an Exxon on West Street in Annapolis.
The Exxon manager, Allen Hartlove, said customers rarely come in and complain about the recent spike in gas prices. Mostly, customers will ask him when the prices will go down, but he’s not in control of it. He gets his orders from Exxon Mobile Corp. – orders he doesn’t always understand.
“What I could never figure out is why the prices go up so fast, but trickle down so slow,” he said.
And the prices won’t necessarily decrease any time soon, especially with Memorial Day approaching and the summer driving season beginning. Those factors usually increase demand for gas and drive up the price – but not as drastically as it has already risen this spring, Knittle of the AAA Mid-Atlantic said.
“It’s not typical that they (gas prices) would come down. It’s also not typical that we would see such a huge increase,” she said.
“There’s not a really clear explanation for why we’re seeing such a huge hike in prices,” Knittle said. “Because there is generally a small hike this time of year, but not anything like we’re seeing now.”
Barrett said the recent rise in prices has even affected his daily life. “On the way home I do everything I got to do because I’m not coming back out,” he laughed.