State sees price spike at gas pump

Wednesday, January 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:51 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Lauren Phillips thinks Columbia drivers have it good when it comes to gas prices. The St. Charles resident was on her way to visit family in Belton on Tuesday afternoon when she stopped to fill up her tank at the Conoco on I-70 Drive SW.

“A buck-forty-seven is pretty cheap,” she said. “Fuel was like over a buck-sixty back home.”

According to the American Automobile Association, gas prices in the St. Louis area jumped 18 to 20 cents between Monday night and Tuesday morning. Michael Right, vice president of public affairs for AAA Missouri, blames the increase on a number of factors.

“We’ve got the lowest crude oil supply since 1975,” he said. “With the recent onslaught of cold weather (nationally), we’re seeing a strong demand for petroleum yet a weak inventory.”

Right also foresees surging prices at Columbia gas pumps, though not as hefty an increase as seen in St. Louis.

“It might not be as dramatic,” he said. “(Mid-Missouri) relies primarily on conventional gasoline. St. Louis, along with most major metropolitan areas, uses reformulated gasoline, which carries a higher cost because certain pollutants are filtered out.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, Missouri is one of 17 states that restrict the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE.

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency reports the chemical has been used in U.S. gasoline since 1979 to replace lead in octane enhancement, which helps prevent auto engines from “knocking.” However, studies have detected MTBE in ground water across the country, making it undrinkable in some areas.

That’s why, according to the EIA, Missouri is moving toward reformulated gasoline without MTBE as a safer alternative. It costs at least 3 cents more per gallon to produce, a price passed on to consumers at the pump.

Right said conventional gasoline is still the common standard for fuel in the U.S., by a ratio of about 2 to 1. He also said because reformulated fuel is not as common, prices tend to fluctuate more heavily in areas like St. Louis.

AAA recommends drivers shop around to avoid paying too much at the pump. Tuesday afternoon prices at 20 Columbia stations for regular unleaded gas fluctuated between $1.43 and $1.51.

Right said drivers can cut fuel consumption by car-pooling, “chaining” trips together, and properly maintaining their vehicles.

“Putting the maximum air pressure in your tires will save you a considerable amount of gasoline,” he said.

Despite the price fluctuation, Right urges drivers not to worry.

“I don’t think it’s going to have a dramatic impact in terms of travel,” he said. “We’ve seen higher gas prices in the past.”

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