Pain returns at the pump: Motorists angry about higher prices

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Wade Casper prepares to fill up his pickup truck at the Murphy USA station in Elizabeth City, Friday. Motorists pulling up to the pumps anywhere in North Carolina in recent weeks are seeing higher gas prices. Casper paid $2.779 for regular unleaded on Friday.

Michael Walden.jpg

By William F. West
Staff Writer

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Victoria Matta is not happy.

Like everyone pulling up to the pumps in recent weeks, she’s paying a lot more to fill up her gas tank.

"I absolutely hate it," Matta, 21, of Elizabeth City, said at the Circle D Food Mart, where regular unleaded was selling for $2.759 a gallon Friday afternoon.

Matta might not have realized it, but the Circle D in fact had the lowest posted price for gas in Elizabeth City on Friday afternoon.

At the Murphy USA across from the Walmart Supercenter, Wade Casper, 70, of Sunbury, was refilling his pickup truck with regular unleaded priced at $2.779 a gallon.

"They have increased quite a bit here recently. I liked it when it was cheaper," Casper, a retired Norfolk Naval Shipyard worker, said with a smile. 

Casper said he’s noticed in the past that gas prices seem to go up before Memorial Day.

"I think they (those in the fuel business) get a lot of holiday traffic," he said.

Casper said his concern is that prices will go even higher. 

Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, said it’s probably a safe bet they will — at least in the short term.

The biggest reason, he said, is simple supply and demand. On the demand side, Americans are driving more because more of them are working and incomes are up.

"So, we're buying more gas, using more gas,” he said.

On the supply side, however, the opposite is happening, Walden said.

Walden noted that Saudi Arabia has pressed fellow members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, as well as Russia, to cut back on oil production.

As long as both things are happening, average gasoline prices are probably going to continue to rise, reaching as high as $3.20 to $3.25 a gallon this summer, Walden said.

There are a couple of factors that could start to reverse that trend, however.

Walden believes the Russians, while listening to OPEC, are nonetheless ready to increase production because oil prices are already high enough for them. He believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will be “very, very tempted” to increase his country’s oil production within a couple of months.

Also, the U.S. has a lot of influence with the Saudis right now, particularly following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran — something the Saudis wanted to see happen.

"So, we've got some sway over them," Walden said.

Walden expects the Trump administration at some point will pressure the Saudis into increasing oil production as well. That could reverse the upward climb of gas prices, he said.

"I think we're going to have to rely on the Russians changing their course and the Saudis and OPEC changing their course to eventually get the price to go down," he said. "So, I'm going to predict that by, I'll say, August, we'll start to see some downward trend in gas prices."

That would be great news for motorists like Timothy Lawton, a Bells Island resident who was filling up his pickup truck at the Murphy USA station on Friday.

"They're creeping up," Lawton said of the prices. "I hope they're going to stop."

Asked why he thinks the prices are so high, he said, "They'll tell you something on TV – and it's somebody else's fault and it's this and that."

At the Wilco Hess off U.S. Highway 17 South, Gloria Sharpe, a retiree from Edenton, was also buying gas on Friday.

"Gas is getting awfully high. It's crazy," she said.

The only silver lining, she said, was that prices were higher — $2.899 — in Edenton.