Gas guzzles pocket change

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Craig resident John Chadwick is proud of his dark-green, nearly-new Chevrolet pickup truck, but he doesn't drive it often. He trades it for his wife's economy car each day as he makes the 20-mile trek to ColoWyo Coal Company.

"It's just too expensive," he said. "Running back and forth to work kills me."

As he filled the tanks of three snowmobiles and the truck Monday, Chadwick looked with disgust at the numbers on the gasoline pump. The price for unleaded gasoline read $1.48 per gallon nearly 5 cents more per gallon than two weeks ago. The price reflects a statewide average increase of 10 cents this month.

"It gets pretty frustrating," Chadwick said.

Chadwick is an avid snowmobiler who enjoys his hobby as often as possible, but said increased gas prices lessen the amount of time he and his wife get to spend on the machines, but not by much.

"If you want to play, you've got to pay the price," he said. "If I made less money, it would probably make a bigger difference."

Gasoline prices across the state have increased an average of 38 cents per gallon since February 1999, according to a AAA Colorado gas price survey.

This increase is attributed to low inventories of crude oil and a $30 price per barrel. The shortage, AAA officials say, was purposely induced. Nations aligned with OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) have cut back oil production to raise global energy prices.

According to Mary Greer, public relations specialist for AAA Colorado, OPEC purposely cut back on its production of crude oil by 4 million barrels each day to force countries to use reserves. This strategy worked to triple the price of crude oil from $11 per barrel one year ago to $30 per barrel today.

Gas prices directly relate to the cost of crude oil because gasoline is the by-product of crude oil production.

"It's not like there's really a shortage," Greer said.

AAA Colorado charts the price of gasoline in nine Colorado towns. Craig is not listed, but the pump price of $1.48 per gallon would place it in the top two. At $1.57 per gallon, Vail is the only town charted by AAA Colorado where gasoline is more expensive.

Convenience store clerks in Craig report they have received complaints from customers about increased prices.

"A lot of out-of-town people complain about it, saying it's cheaper where they came from," Debbie Knez, assistant manager of Mini Mart, said.

Chadwick said he had guests from Denver over the weekend who were upset about the difference in price.

Predictions for future gas prices are hard to make.

"It will be interesting to see as winter eases up and the demand for heating oil drops what's going to happen with gas prices," Greer said. "It's anybody's guess."

Usually, summertime is a peak demand season for gasoline, which drives prices up.

To deal with the price increase, AAA Colorado offered residents 10 fuel conservation tips:

Keep tires properly inflated. This will reduce resistance a vehicle must overcome to start moving and keep going.

Accelerate gently and brake gently. Avoid hard stops. Quick acceleration and speeds requiring hard breaking wastes fuel.

Don't idle for more than a few minutes. Idling consumes half-a-gallon of gas per hour and wastes more gas than restarting the engine.

Check the engine oil levels. Oil keeps the engine lubricated properly.

Aggressively shop for the best gas prices in your area.

Combine errands into one trip or go to one location to take care of as many errands as possible.

Pack lightly when traveling. Avoid items on the roof that can increase wind resistance.

Check your vehicle manual to insure you are using the proper grade of fuel. Mid-grade or premium fuel may not be needed for your type of vehicle.

Car-pool to work or school.

If you have more than one vehicle, use the one that gets the best gas mileage for most of your trips.

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