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Gas prices: definitely not the same for everyone

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image Penny Fletcher Photo

Not only does gas vary in price between companies, but it also varies at some stations bearing the same symbol.

By PENNY FLETCHER

SOUTH COUNTY — By the time this story comes out, the gas prices quoted here will probably have changed. That’s because they seem to be changing just about every day.

But it can still be an example of how prices differ from place to place, whether we’re talking about the difference between European countries and the United States, or the same brand of gasoline sold on U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 in South County.
It looks like it’s based on what the market will bear.

In the preparation of this story I drove to 15 gas stations; called the Department of Energy in Washington D.C.; the Florida headquarters of Circle K convenience stores in Temple Terrace; talked with a spokeswoman from the Hess Corporation in New York City; and went on line to the DOE Web site and CNN.money for the latest in world-wide gas prices.

I knew there was an inconsistency in the cost of a gallon of gas, but never dreamed it was so wide.

Starting right here at home, I first looked at a small portion of South County. I made a loop; north on U.S. 301 from Big Bend Road to Gibsonton Drive; then west to U.S. 41; and then south on U.S. 41; and east on Big Bend to get back to my starting place on U.S. 301. I also checked with the Hess station on College Avenue in Ruskin since only one Hess was available within my “loop” area.

It was extremely interesting to me what I found.

Not only does gas vary in price between companies, but it also varies at some stations bearing the same symbol.

Of course, here in this area, we’re only talking about a few cents a gallon. But as you will see, that progresses up the line from state to state and country to country in much the same manner only to a higher degree.

As I drove to Tennessee and back in March, I noticed that the farther north in Florida I went, the higher the gas prices were. Alabama and Mississippi prices were higher yet.

But when I crossed over into west Tennessee just above Tupelo, Mississippi, prices similar to those in Florida reappeared.

Thinking that rather strange because Alabama and Mississippi are not considered “wealthy” states, I decided to see if there was a discrepancy between countries as well.

What I found was a small difference locally and state-wide, while there was a huge difference between gas prices from one country to another.

Starting with the local scene, I found that Shell was the same price ($3.79 for regular and $4.03 for premium) at all three locations: U.S 41, Kings Crossing and Symmes Road at U.S. 301. Those Shell stations, however, are all at Circle K convenience stores. Although I did not get a call-back from Florida’s Circle K headquarters (which is in Temple Terrace) from what I could see, Circle K prices in South County were the same no matter in which community you bought your gas.

Our two South County Walmart stores also had the same price: $3.76 for regular and $4.09 for premium, and each offered a discount of 3 cents a gallon to those using a Walmart card.

Chevron and 7-11 however, had different prices at stores depending upon their location.

Chevron on U.S. 41 at Big Bend Road was selling regular gas that day for $3.82, while in Summerfield Crossings, it was $3.73; a difference of 9 cents a gallon.

Chevron premium price was also different: $4.14 on U.S. 41 and $4.08 in Summerfield.

Raceway on Gibsonton Drive just east of Interstate 75 had regular at $3.79; a price lower than many which I attributed to being less than a mile from Walmart.

Hess on U.S. 301 at Big Bend Road and on College Avenue in Ruskin (State Road 674) both were $3.79 for regular and $4.01 for premium.

The slight differences between local brands add up to only a few dollars on each full tank of gas, but they do add up. My question, however, was do they add up enough to drive five or six miles out of the way for the cheaper price?

My answer was no.

While as of May 1 we were paying an average of $3.76 a gallon for regular gas here in South County, world-wide, however, there’s a different story.

Since my telephone calls to the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. remained unanswered, after four days, I went to their Web site. You can go there yourself as I have found that they change their prices daily.

On May 1, the prices on the DOE Web site were the same as those listed on CNN’s Money.com. The DOE site for world-wide gasoline prices is www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleium/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html.

The day I checked, I found that citizens of the Netherlands were paying $6.48 a gallon; Italy, France and Germany were all paying in the mid $5 range; prices dropped some in Ireland where they were $4.78. In Cuba they were $3.30 and in Russia, $2.10.

The biggest surprise to me was finding that in Egypt the price of a gallon of regular gas the day I checked was 65¢, and in Venezuela, it was 12¢.

So I went back to the DOE Web site to find out the places that produce the most crude oil, from which gasoline is made, and how much of it the United States imports.

The site states that as of 2010 the U.S. produced less than 40 percent of the crude oil it used and obtained the rest from a variety of countries; our top two suppliers being Canada and Saudi Arabia; followed by Mexico; Nigeria; Venezuela; and a list of others where we buy much smaller amounts.

I also found that rumors of being able to affect terrorism by boycotting certain gas companies are false. There is no way to boycott a company you think might be giving money to terrorists.

Here’s why.

The following is a direct quote from the DOE Web site:

“We cannot tell where the gasoline from each station was purchased because gasoline from different refineries is often combined for shipment by pipeline, and companies owning service stations in the same area may be purchasing gasoline at the same bulk terminal. In that case, the only difference between the gasoline at station X versus the gasoline at station Y may be the small amount of additives that those companies add to the gasoline before it gets to the pump. And even if we knew at which company’s refinery the gasoline was produced, the source of the crude oil used at that refinery may vary on a day-to-day basis. Most refiners use a mix of crude oils from various domestic and foreign sources. The mix of crude oils can change based on the relative cost and availability of crude oil from different sources.”

Continuing to follow rumors found on many places on line that say Citgo, Sunoco, Conoco, Sinclair, BP, Phillips, Arco and Hess do not buy any crude oil from the Middle East, I was only able to confirm this with Hess as the others did not call back.
Spokeswoman Lorrie Hecker from Hess headquarters in Woodbridge, N.J. confirmed on April 30 that “Hess does not purchase crude oil from any countries in the Middle East.”

Some South County drivers, however, say they must go only to stations offering the best price no matter where that company obtains its oil.

Danny Jones of Gibsonton was pumping away at the Gibsonton Walmart when I approached him with my camera. Unwilling to have his photograph taken, he did tell me on the record that having to drive 30 miles each way every day to work, he can’t be choosey about where he buys his gas.

“I have to buy the cheapest gas I can find,” he said.

A large, older model four-door sedan with a man and woman in front and a man and woman in back pulled up while I was talking with Danny and asked if I was taking a survey. Their windows were all down because the car had no air conditioning and all four started talking at once.

These people did not want to be named or photographed either, but made such comments as “They said on the news that the government was auditing where these companies bought their oil and how much they were paying for it,” and “I’ll be interested to hear what their profits are.”

So will we all.

My day driving to gas stations to prepare this story ate up about one-fourth of a 12-gallon tank of gas. In my Saturn Ion, that’s $11.28 using the South County average of $3.76 a gallon.

I ended the day glad that although I still have another 18 months to pay on my six-year loan, I am glad I have a small car rather than an SUV.

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