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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Local fuel prices soar; $3.55 gas pumps ire of drivers

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The price of gas today is higher than the $3.099 recorded on Aug. 30, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. The price of gas today is higher than the $3.099 recorded on Aug. 30, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.
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Gasoline prices vaulted into uncharted territory for Toledo yesterday, topping $3.50 a gallon for self-service, unleaded regular at stations across the metropolitan area.

The $3.559 a gallon price posted first at BP stations, but followed by other brands, topped the $3.499 high-price mark Toledo experienced last May.

Toledo's new price occurs at a time when retail prices across the nation are setting records, reflecting soaring world prices for crude oil.

Oil prices hit a record high $117 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday, with jitters over Nigerian oil supplies the latest explanation for crude's ever-rising cost.

But Nigeria was far from the minds of Toledoans as they refueled - but didn't necessarily fill up - their vehicles yesterday afternoon.

"It's ridiculous. I put in, like, 10 bucks at a time now," Dinae Millen, of Oregon, said during a visit to the BP station at Front and

Main streets in East Toledo.

She said she began carpooling to her job at Wal-Mart a few weeks ago because of gasoline prices.

Nearby, Richard Barringer, who lives in the Old West End, said he does the best he can to combine errands, but has to do a lot of driving because his sons play sports.

"I have to manage my trips," he said. "I try to fill the tank and make it last the whole week."

It's uncertain if the $3.559 price in Toledo would stick.

By early evening, many stations along Alexis Road still were charging in the low $3.30s for a gallon of regular, and in southern Bedford Township prices had yet to rise above $3.50.

Stations at the intersection of M-50 and U.S. 23 in Dundee were charging $3.479 last night.

But farther into Michigan, the $3.50 mark was exceeded earlier this week, and the rising price of crude portended higher retail prices down the road, if not right away.

Oil prices have more than quadrupled since 2002 as supply struggles to keep up with booming demand, especially in China and other emerging economies.

"The bulls still hold the cards," said Mike Fitzpatrick, of MF Global in New York.

A Nigerian rebel group said it had sabotaged a major oil pipeline operated by Royal Dutch Shell and vowed to step up attacks on oil installations.

Officials at Shell, which is pumping 400,000 barrels a day below capacity from Nigeria because of sabotage and security concerns, confirmed that a small amount of production had been shut down.

The Nigerian situation outweighed two factors that might otherwise have sent oil prices downward: a rally in the world market value of the U.S. dollar, whose recent weakness has made rising world oil prices especially damaging to Americans, and fears of an economic slowdown in China that might dampen that nation's growing petroleum consumption.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J., predicted yesterday morning in his Speaking of Oil blog that the national average retail price for unleaded would top $3.50 a gallon within a week, but continued to dispute other analysts' predictions that gasoline will top the $4 a gallon mark on a nationwide basis this summer.

Despite rising-price predictions, yesterday's hike caught at least one motorist by surprise.

At a BP on West Sylvania Avenue near Talmadge Road in West Toledo, Denise Case of Temperance found herself stuck with a $3.559 a gallon price to fill up her mother's minivan.

"I thought it said $3.35," Ms. Case said, shaking her head. "And I have to fill it up."

While filling up his Corvette convertible for $3.549 a gallon at a Sunoco on Monroe Street near Harvest Lane, John Vore of West Toledo said rising prices have curbed most of the cruising he likes to do in his flashy car.

"I'm concerned about people that are going to be traveling this summer," he said.

Compared with those prices, the $3.299 gas that Alexis Metz, of Toledo, bought at a Sunoco on Monroe near I-475 was a bargain - the price there climbed to $3.399 just five minutes after she finished buying $50 worth.

Ms. Metz said she has learned to be resourceful about shopping for cheaper gas because she can't afford to cut back on driving.

"I have two jobs, one is in Sylvania," she explained. "I have to go to work no matter what."

Staff writers Bridget Tharp and Larry P. Vellequette contributed to this report. Information from The Blade's news services also was used.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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