EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 20, 2013

Soaring gas prices are a pain in the wallet

People are fuming when fueling up

By Doug Ireland

---- — Paying for gasoline at the pumps is painful enough, especially when the price soars nearly 32 cents in a single month.

Gas prices in Southern New Hampshire have been on the rise with little relief in sight, climbing to $3.79 per gallon at several stations in Derry and Londonderry yesterday.

That’s well above the statewide average of $3.72 a gallon for regular unleaded and the national average of $3.70, according to Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.

“We have had some significant, sizable jumps across the country,” he said.

Perhaps the only good news, he said, is that the price is not likely to exceed $4 a gallon — though it may come close.

“New Hampshire may escape $4,” DeHaan said, “but I would expect to see it in the high $3 range through the summer.”

That’s not what people gassing up in Londonderry wanted to hear yesterday.

They were hoping for relief from the rising prices, which included regular unleaded for only $3.40 a gallon exactly a month ago. Just since last week, the average price statewide rose 6 cents a gallon.

“It’s up, then it’s down — who knows?” said Gil Merolli, 55, of Derry. “It’s crazy. Years ago, it hardly ever changed. It’s all politics.”

Ryan Robinson, 37, of Derry said he’s spending about $200 a week to fuel up his two pickup trucks and wants to know why the prices are rising

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

DeHaan said the price hikes are due to a number of factors, especially increased speculation in fuel futures and the closure of major refineries for annual maintenance.

He expects prices to drop slightly in two or three weeks, but to rise again this spring.

The escalating prices are having a real impact on small companies that rely heavily on fuel to operate. That includes snowplow operators such as Dan Mastrocola of Plaistow, who must wait to be reimbursed for his fuel costs.

Mastrocola, 44, who works for Auto Auction of New England in Londonderry, was putting gas in his pickup and a 100-gallon fuel tank yesterday. He said he worked an extra 15 hours plowing during the recent snowstorm, but was a little nervous he would run out of money because he wouldn’t be reimbursed for at least a week.

Mastrocola said he even spent the night at his sister’s Salem home one night last week to save on gas and get through the week with money in his pocket.

“It was a little scary,” he said. “It’s had a huge impact. I used to fill up all the time, but now I only get what is going to get me through.”

Mastrocola said he spends about $100 a week on gas compared to $65 a few months ago.

“I’m definitely looking to move closer to work,” he said.

Rising fuel prices also can have a big impact on businesses that rely on deliveries, including flower shops, according to Tom Hankins of Backmann Florist in Derry.

Ninety-five percent of Backmann’s business involves deliveries, Hankins said. That means fueling the West Broadway shop’s two delivery vans can get expensive, he said.

“In terms of a flower business, it has a very big impact,” he said. “Particularly when it’s close to hitting $4.”

Hankins, who owns the shop with his wife, Mary, said they were fortunate to have done well on Valentine’s Day. But when gas prices start to creep up, it affects their business and their customers’ buying habits, he said.

“It reduces people’s discretionary income and flowers are not essential,” he said. “It definitely affects our business.”

Soaring fuel prices also affect town and school district operations, which must budget accordingly.

Derry Public Works Director Michael Fowler said he’s trying to plan right now for fiscal 2014, taking the sharp rise in gasoline and fuel prices into account.

“There is a little bit of a crystal ball involved,” he said.

For example, the town, which has 90 public works vehicles, is paying about 43 cents a gallon more for gas than expected when budgeting for that expense a year ago, Fowler said.

But Fowler said the town doesn’t expect to experience any problems with fuel expenses.