Rick Daughten was less than pleased on Monday when he pulled into a gas station and saw that fuel prices had jumped 20 cents since the last time he topped off his van's tank.
"I'm not happy about having to pay more money for gas, but who is?" he said, standing by a pump at Kidd's Convenience Store on Kingshighway. "Nobody likes to see prices go up like this."
But they have gone up and done so quickly. Over the past two weeks, fuel prices in the Cape Girardeau area have increased from $1.19 to $1.40 for a gallon of regular. For stations near Interstate 55, gas prices are closer to $1.43. That's 35 cents higher than the statewide average last year at this time.
It's not unique to Southeast Missouri; gas prices have been soaring all over the country. Observers say the increases are mostly due to a nationwide strike in Venezuela, which has slashed production from nearly 3 million barrels a day to 260,000 barrels a day.
Venezuela is the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world. Roughly one in seven barrels of oil brought into the United States is provided by Venezuela.
Experts also say that the industry's nervousness over a possible war with Iraq -- which would hamper oil flow out of the Middle East -- is no doubt pushing up prices.
"It's both of those things," said Mike Right, a spokesman with AAA Auto Club of Missouri in St. Louis. "We're seeing a dramatic increase in gas prices across the state, and I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better."
Statewide average $1.36
In St. Louis, gas prices were $1.38 on Monday. In Kansas City, prices spiked at $1.41. The statewide average was officially $1.36, but Right said he suspected the true figure is higher than that.
"These crises are going to continue to put pressure on the market," he said. "Unless the product is made up by someone else or the demand miraculously disappears, the price is going to keep going up."
Locally, gas station owners aren't making excuses.
"Our gas prices have been going up for about the past two weeks," said Jim Mauer, the owner of Rhodes 101 Stop, which has 10 stations in the immediate area and a total of 22. "What's happening, of course, is going to affect the prices."
Mauer said predicting whether the price will go up or down is impossible.
"We have no idea," he said. "All we can do is watch it. Everything depends on things happening so far away, there's just no telling."
At both Bi-State convenience stores in Cape Girardeau, prices were also up about 20 cents from two weeks ago.
"I think everybody's uneasy about what's going on in the Middle East," said company president Scott Blank. "Until we get some assurances there, the market's going to continue to fluctuate a little bit. It's like the stock market. People are looking for an answer."
People like John Grayson, who said he is stung by the increase more than most. Grayson lives in Unity, Ill., but drives 32 miles a day to his job as head of security at Westfield Shoppingtown West Park.
"How would you not notice the difference?" he said, filling up his car Monday afternoon. "I go through a lot of gas with that drive, and it hits you."
335-6611, extension 137