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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

Toledo area braces for $3 a gallon; oil hits $72.17 per barrel, third straight record price

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ryan Coppola paid $3.069 a gallon for gas yesterday at the Oak Openings Carry-Out to top off the PT Cruiser he was driving but while surprised at the price wasn't particularly upset.

"I get reimbursed for this," Mr. Coppola, a Stonington, Conn., resident in the area for business, said during the $10 fillup he made before returning the rented auto at Toledo Express Airport. "So this [filling station] is where most of the rental cars come, I would imagine."

The seemingly inexorable return to $3 a gallon gasoline continued throughout the Toledo area yesterday, with many area gas stations posting $2.899 prices for self-service, unleaded regular and above $3 for premium.

But Oak Openings Carry-Out at Airport Highway and Eber Road, a Citgo station that is the last gas before westbound motorists reach Toledo Express and routinely charges more than nearby competitors do, yesterday became the first to pass the $3 mark for all grades.

"We go through a middle guy," said an Oak Openings employee who would identify himself only as "Lake" and denied that the station's pricing preys on business travelers avoiding car-rental refueling fees.

County property records show the station is locally owned, by Theodore J. Randall, trustee, with a mailing address in the care of Linda Joy Randall Wagener of Whitehouse.

"We're a little, independent station, so the big guys won't come to us. We have to buy through a middleman, and he kills us," Lake said. As for the other stations on Airport Highway, he said, "They're all going to catch up with us, eventually."

Whether the competitors will ever match the carry-out's prices remains to be seen, but Tom Kloza, the chief oil analyst with the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J., agreed that $3 regular is likely to arrive in the Toledo area, and many other places around the United States, in the very near future.

"You can expect it pretty shortly," Mr. Kloza said yesterday. "It's an easy call. When wholesale goes up, retail prices soon follow."

Wholesale regular yesterday was trading in the $2.30s a gallon in most of the country and, after state and federal taxes are added in, "it's close to $2.90 by the time it's delivered into the station," the analyst said.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday, light sweet crude for May delivery climbed as high as $72.40 a barrel, before settling at $72.17, the third- straight record high.

Oil analyst John Kilduff of Fimat USA in New York said there would be a "painful run-up" in gasoline prices as summer approaches, predicting that oil prices could rise as high as $80 a barrel by the end of June. Purchased today, crude for June delivery costs $74 a barrel.

Gasoline prices have breached the $3 mark in Toledo once before. Late last August, within days of Hurricane Katrina, most area stations hiked regular to $3.099 a gallon.

Some independent dealers, worried about their supplies getting cut off, went as high as the $3.30s.

Local prices bounced close to $3 again a month later during Hurricane Rita, but after that they dropped steadily back to about $2 a gallon in early January before beginning to rise anew.

An OPIS analysis issued Tuesday said that the national average for retail, self-service unleaded peaked at $3.05 a gallon on Sept. 5.

Some analysts now suggest that record "could be shattered by Memorial Day," the OPIS report said.

But the federal Energy Information Administration said yesterday that while the national average retail price may exceed $3 a gallon at some point this year, it is not yet forecasting such an average to be sustained for an entire month.

"Significant increases in gasoline production as refineries undergoing maintenance return to full operation sometime over the next several weeks should stem the rise in gasoline prices and may, actually, cause them to decline somewhat," the agency said in its weekly petroleum-market analysis issued yesterday.

The national average retail price of $2.783, as of Monday, was 54.6 cents higher than a year ago and the highest since Oct. 5, EIA said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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