1 May 2007 - 11:20
  • News Code: 103573

Florida’s regular unleaded gasoline costs soared more than 30 cents a gallon in April after average increases of 20 cents per month in February and March, and Panama City-area prices have kept pace as the state nears the $3 mark almost a month before the traditionally active Memorial Day weekend.

AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report listed Florida’s regular unleaded average at $2.968 on Monday, up from $2.66 last month.

 

The state set a record of $3.026 per gallon of regular unleaded in August 2006, and AAA spokesman Randy Bly said Monday that several Florida markets already were over the $3 benchmark.

 

“I think it’s taken everyone by surprise,” Bly said.

 

Gas prices in the Panama City area for regular unleaded fuel ranged from $2.89 to $2.99 per gallon Monday, according to www.floridastate gasprices.com.

 

Bly said his organization expects another busy Memorial Day weekend, possibly a record for regional and national travel, although AAA has not made an official estimate yet.

 

Mary Carmichael, Panama City Beach Director of Leisure Services, said any upswing in gas prices has the most impact on department employees and area residents, not tourists.

 

Carmichael said that her department employs 20 people on a permanent basis, and would add about 20 more workers on a seasonal basis for the summer.

 

She said many of her employees work multiple jobs and cannot afford to live in Panama City Beach.

 

“The majority commute quite a distance,” Carmichael said.

 

In 2006, AAA projected that, in spite of higher gas prices and increased vacation costs, more than 2 million Floridians would travel at least 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

 

Area gas prices fell in January to near the $2 per gallon level, but have increased steadily in the following months.

 

AAA’s statewide average for regular unleaded gasoline Monday was slightly higher than the same time last year, when the average price was $2.96 per gallon.

 

The weakening of the U.S. dollar and its effects on global oil trade, a higher demand nationally than last year and lower domestic gas inventories are all contributors to higher prices this year, Bly said.

 

“I think that’s what driving prices up, those low inventories,” Bly said.

 

According to the Associated Press, recent mishaps across the country are adding to the problem, including a fire and explosion on Friday that temporarily shuttered Gary Williams Energy Corp.’s 50,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Wynnewood, Okla., and the shutdown on Saturday of portions of ConocoPhillips’ 247,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Sweeny, Texas, because of power outages.

 

Last week’s U.S. Energy Department report showed an unexpected drop of 2.8 million barrels in U.S. gasoline stockpiles and said U.S. refinery use declined to 87.8 percent of capacity, according to AP.

 

The price of oil closed Monday at $65.71 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

 

Bly said that, should oil prices stay at that level, it’s unlikely there would be much price calming after Memorial Day.

 

He pointed out that the AAA’s national record of $3.057 per gallon of regular unleaded, recorded on Sept. 5, 2005, was set in the days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

 

There is no major natural disaster or other significant event that has triggered this year’s steady increase in prices, Bly said.

 

“I think it’s very frustrating for everybody right now,” Bly said. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

PIN/Newsherald.Com

News Code 103573

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