Middle East unrest fuels gas price hikes

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Willard household covers a lot of miles.

East Lincoln’s Michelle Willard covers a roughly 60-mile roundtrip every night from her home deep down East Lincoln Road tonursing classes at Southwest Mississippi Community College, and herhusband Keith travels another 40 miles each day back forth to hisjob north of Wesson. After they take the kids to school, go to thegrocery store and tool around town, the Willards are driving wellmore than 100 miles per day.

With gas at $3.11 per gallon and rising, the mileage is gettingcostly.

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“It’s making us spend a lot more money than we really want to,”Michelle said. “I just have to put up with it. There’s nothing Ican change.”

She can’t change, but gas prices likely will.

Ron Craddock, chief of McComb’s Craddock Oil Company, said gasprices could climb above $3.50 per gallon in the coming days, aprice spike driven by unrest in several oil-producing nations inthe Middle East.

Recent uprisings in Libya – where dictator Moammar Gadhafi maybe losing control of the nation – have exacerbated an alreadyshaken oil market unsettled by similar protests in Egypt, Iran andTunisia, and President Barack Obama’s ban on new offshore drilling,he said.

The price of crude oil broke the $100 barrier Wednesday.

“Unless things all of a sudden become peaceful in the MiddleEast, you’re probably looking at a minimum of $3.20 to $3.80 beforeyou can blink an eye,” Craddock said. “When you’re importing 60percent of your crude oil from the Middle East, the prices will, inmy opinion, continue to escalate.”

Gasoline prices rose more than 7 cents per gallon on Tuesday andwere climbing another 12 cents Wednesday, Craddock said. Thoseprices had yet to show up at the pump by Wednesday, but motoristscan expect to see the increase manifest itself on the pump countersby this weekend.

“Twenty cents in two days is pretty spectacular,” he said.

Rising gas prices will affect almost every government budget inthe country, as school boards, law enforcement and other agenciesshift money around to deal with the costs.

Some agencies – like the East Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department- just have to take it.

“We have to keep the tanks full,” assistant chief Terry Fullersaid as he fueled up a fire truck at Super Jack with costly dieselfuel. “It costs $86 for 24 gallons, but all you can do is buy it.We have to have it to operate.”

Ted Evans, owner of Tillotson’s Economy Service Station inBrookhaven, said gas was showing at least a 5-cent increase in thecoming days.

“Who knows where it’s going to go?” he said. “If it keeps goinglike that, it won’t take long to get up there.”

“Up there” is right now for Monticello’s Danny McNeese, whomakes a long drive every day from his home to his job atBrookhaven’s Wal-Mart Distribution Center.

To him, the answer to out-of-control gas prices lies not in theMiddle East, but in America. He wants the federal drilling banlifted.

“We’ve got plenty of oil here in the U.S. and out in the Gulf(of Mexico), and we need to drill for it,” McNeese said. “Thissituation wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t buying more oil fromoverseas.”