Soaring fuel prices leave some grounded

The sudden increase of gas prices, resulting from gas station owners being forced to oblige to the demands of refiners and continually raising their prices, is beginning to affect some consumers across Florida.

Gas prices could have a tremendous affect on students and their summer plans. Aeriel Coleman, 20, a junior exercise science student, expressed concerns about traveling back and forth from Atlanta, her hometown.

“Usually, I can just pick up and leave anytime I want to head home. Now, I have to plan ahead of time to make sure I have enough funds to get me there and back,” Coleman said. “I know I won’t be doing that much traveling this summer. I just can’t afford to waste gas.”

The base cost of crude oil has not changed or risen, said Jim Smith, the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association.

“Refiners are raising the price of oil because they can. It is just another opportunity for them to get money,” he said.

Smith is in charge of making sure the members of the FPMA are fully aware of legislative issues, regulatory challenges, tax questions and other industry concerns that may arise.

The members of the FPMA, like Marathon Petroleum, Citgo Petroleum and British Petroleum, are seeing no signs of reasonable profit, Smith said. “(The) majority of our members are just trying to break even.”

In order to keep prices low for consumers, some independent gas station operators have to take severe pay cuts. Many operators around Florida have been forced to shut their business down because of inadequate funds.

Over the past four weeks, gas prices have increased 30 cents a gallon in some areas. This leaves many students feeling shafted.

“As a student, I feel that most of my money is going towards gas,” said Nikeira Roker, 20, a junior mathematics education and accounting student from West Palm Beach. “You just can’t go where you want anymore because you have to worry about saving gas.”

Gas station operators have become astute when it comes to dealing with the public’s sentiment. The BP station on Magnolia Street has price reduction deals in order to increase clientele during certain days.

“We have specials four times a week; we offer 7 cents off of our super petroleum selection in hopes of attracting more customers,” said Barbra Smith, a BP sales associate. “On days we don’t have deals, we tend to see a tremendous decrease in the amount of people that stop by.”

Recently, oil refineries have challenged the FPMA. The argument is that there is a great deal of volatility in the market right now.

Oil companies have proposed a bill in both the House of Representatives and Senate that would ban independent operators from being able to sell gas.

“(Major) Oil companies want to move out mom and pop type businesses and control the entire marketplace,” Jim Smith said. “(Oil companies) want to act like they care about the consumer, but that’s just a crock.”

If this bill passes, it may prove to be detrimental to the FPMA, which is predominantly made up of independent operators.

Until then, Jim Smith will have to keep advising the members of the association on how not to go bankrupt in an industry that is primarily focused on instantaneous wealth.

According to a recent article, gas prices are not going to decline anytime soon. Ever since Hurricane Katrina it has been impossible to find gas under $2 anywhere. Most experts, however, don’t expect the price per gallon to exceed $3 this summer.

Contact Herneshia Spurlock at