Payingat the pump

Different views offered on high gas prices

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Kicking tires and clearing snow-dirt muck off a side window, Larry Turner pumped gas into his Ford Explorer at the west Conoco Monday and shook his head.

"No good," Turner smiled, eager to get back on the road home to Salt Lake City after pumping 10 1/2 gallons worth of unleaded-plus fuel at $1.95 per gallon.

"When I left (Salt Lake) Friday, it was at $1.61; we've been through Fort Collins and Breckenridge and this is by far the most expensive I've seen," he said.

Regular unleaded gas sold at $1.86 per gallon Monday at Conoco's 140 W. Victory Way station, as AAA Colorado says gas prices statewide are hitting February highs not seen since it began tracking week-to-week price fluctuations in the mid-1970s.

Both Craig's Conoco locations sold regular unleaded Monday at $1.86 per gallon, while the three Kum and Go stores priced the same fuel at $1.85 per gallon.

"It's kind of ridiculous," said James Mitchell, mechanic and station attendant for the last year and a half at the West Victory Way Conoco.

"The most I'd seen it was $1.81 since Sept. 11."

Through Feb. 12, U.S. gasoline prices had risen 15.2 cents from January as Colorado prices increased by an average of 11.5 cents, according to AAA Colorado's Weekly Gas Price Survey.

The study shows state prices jumped on average 9 cents over the survey period between Feb. 5 and Feb. 12.

Mary Greer, spokesperson for Colorado AAA, said February is one of the months that historically features some of the lowest gasoline prices over a year.

Possible war against Iraq, a threat of new terrorist attacks and the loss of oil and gas shipments from Venezuela are factors in the recent rise, "although nothing fully justifies the latest round of price increases," AAA wrote in its most recent gas survey.

"Are these increases based on actual costs or what's happening in the market with all the uncertainties?" asked Greer, whose organization has urged pricing "restraint" by the gasoline industry.

"We would hope it's not taking undue advantage of an emergency that hasn't happened yet," she said.

Many local retail clerks were hesitant to discuss gas prices and how they are determined.

Stan Dempsey Jr., president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, rejects such suggestions.

"It's easy for AAA to speculate, but we're dealing with market forces here," Dempsey said, pointing mainly to high crude oil prices and increased electricity costs now faced by regional refiners.

"At some point that spike is going to get down to the retail sale level," Dempsey said.

Meanwhile, area resident Mary DeGuelle, who Monday pumped 23 gallons of regular unleaded into her Ford Explorer for $43.47, shrugged off the steep bill as a self-described "hockey mom" with kids to shuttle.

"Can't really use a more economical car because the hockey bags don't fit," DeGuelle laughed. "It's another thing and you just deal with it -- no point in getting stressed over it."

Still, warmer weather might bring a few life-style changes, she said.

"We'll be riding bikes more if these prices stay up."

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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