HERE TO STAY?

Thanks a lot, gas prices. It might (and should!) have taken years for me to feel like I am truly getting older. But thanks to recent spikes in gasoline prices here in the Midwest, I now catch myself saying how I can remember when I could fill up my car in college (not that long ago, thank you) for less than $10. It makes me sound, well, old. I shouldn't have a reason to reminisce about prices — not yet. And while gas prices stayed in the dollar-and-change range, it wasn't an issue. But when prices here for a gallon of regular gasoline soared above $2 this month (and stayed there), it became an inescapable topic of discussion, compelling me to use phrases like “I can remember when …” and “Back when I was in school …,” instantly aging me an additional 30 years (and reminding me to call my grandmother).

I realize there are those of you out there who will point out that we are lucky that gas prices haven't kept up with inflation, but it's a hard concept to swallow when you're watching your equipment-operating budget become as obsolete as an eight-track player while gasoline prices jump up and never trickle back down. My dad, who has been in the petroleum business in Texas for more than half a century, warned me that “we'll see prices at $2.25 before we'll see them at $1.75 again.” In an ongoing campaign to prove him wrong, I set out to research it.

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What I found: According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. average retail price for regular gasoline is up about nine cents from last month, with the largest gains in the Midwest, and the West Coast having the highest overall price at $2.17 per gallon. Oil companies consistently point to increased taxes and the cost of integrating methods for developing cleaner-burning fuel as catalysts for the high prices. Other experts say that low oil inventories are to blame. EIA cites late-winter rising crude oil prices and high rates of refinery utilization for the rising gas prices. Whichever you choose to blame, the result is the same. As for my dad's prediction? Well, it turns out he's right. (I hate that!) EIA reports that pump prices for regular gasoline are expected to average about $2.10 per gallon during the 2005 driving season — our working season — (April through September), up 20 cents from the same period last year. Sustained domestic growth in gasoline demand is expected to increase average monthly prices to about $2.15 per gallon by spring.

One good piece of information I came across is a Web site to help you find the lowest-priced gasoline in your area (mainly larger, metropolitan areas). Visit www.fueleconomy.gov and click on your state. Even if it just saves you a few cents per gallon, it's worth it.

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