Gas prices shoot up in St. Louis area

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Prices have gone up in recent weeks around the state, but none as much as in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS -- Amanda Langendorf and her husband had hoped to take their four children on a road trip to Indiana this summer. That was before gasoline prices reached record highs in the St. Louis area.

Langendorf, of New Athens, Ill., commutes three days a week to her accountant assistant job in St. Louis. Every day, she checks Web sites to see where gasoline prices are lowest. It hasn't helped much.

"I'm not going to take vacation this year," Langendorf said Monday as she pumped gas into her minivan at a Quik Trip in south St. Louis.

Gasoline prices hit record levels in St. Louis on Friday, rising as much as a quarter at some stations to an average of $3.17 per gallon. The price had dropped a cent or two by Monday, but still had motorists coping with a cost of filling up a 15-gallon tank that stands at $46.31, up from $39.64 a year ago.

"It's mad crazy, man, it hurts," said independent construction contractor Larry Smith of St. Louis, who sidelined one of the two pickups he uses at work sites to save on gas.

Prices have risen in recent weeks around Missouri, but none as much as in St. Louis. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded on AAA Auto Club of Missouri's Web site Monday ranged from $2.74 in Cape Girardeau to $2.90 in Hannibal and Jefferson City.

Cape, Jackson prices

Regular unleaded gasoline at the Jackson BP at 1831 E. Jackson Blvd. cost $2.74 per gallon Monday afternoon, with the same price at Rhodes 101 at 113 W. Jackson Blvd. Regular unleaded at Jasper's at 1008 N. Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau as $2.69 per gallon and $2.74 at the Rhodes 101 at 449 S. Kingshighway. At the Scott City Casey's General Store, super unleaded with a 10 percent ethanol blend was $2.74 per gallon, while regular unleaded was $2.77 per gallon.

St. Louis remained more than a quarter above the high end of those prices because of the type of "boutique" reformulated gasoline required there. The cleaner-burning gas is an effort required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit air pollution.

AAA's Mike Right said a refinery in Indiana that supplies reformulated gasoline to St. Louis was running low and had to divert some of its product to Chicago and other areas, causing the price to spike.

In fact, experts say refinery output is to blame for the steady rise in gasoline prices this year.

Seasonal trends

"There is a seasonal tendency for prices to run up before the summer drive season, but this year it's been exacerbated by a series of refinery outages, some unplanned," said Eric Wittenauer, who follows the oil and gas industries for A.G. Edwards in St. Louis. "It's been a struggle for the refineries to get back to the production we'd hoped to see."

Right said that although refinery production is down 4 percent this year, demand is up 2 percent. The result is higher prices, even though the per-barrel cost of crude oil is actually lower than a year ago.

The news isn't all bleak. Refineries are working to increase their output. If that happens, barring some unforeseen event, prices should moderate or even drop, said Ron Leone, executive director of the Jefferson City-based Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.

Right said the Department of Energy also sees lower prices ahead. The DOE, he said, projects a nationwide average price of $2.81 per gallon in the summer, down about 3 cents from a year ago.

Southeast Missourian staff reporter Matt Sanders contributed to this story.

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