Theresa Bacon of Derry is hopping mad about the price of gas. Like a lot of people, Bacon is consolidating her car errands, but wishes the government would crack down on the oil companies for overcharging.
"I would like the government to do something to stop all this price gouging," she said. "They're making record profits. We're the ones that pay and not just on the gas — on food, on heating fuel, on everything."
Oil prices have, indeed, started to look like a runaway train. Yesterday's $110.20 record price for a barrel of crude will eventually trickle down to New Hampshire gas stations in the form of even higher prices. By comparison, oil prices averaged $72 a barrel in 2007.
A gallon of gas could cost some Americans more than $4 this spring, according to yesterday's price forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
But the government's best guessers said gas prices should peak at about $3.50 a gallon in the spring. They aren't ruling out the chance prices will spill over the $4 threshold briefly nationwide or stay stuck at that price in some regions.
The best-case scenario — $3.50 a gallon — is still 20 cents higher than last month's government prediction. And it's a reflection of higher prices for crude oil, according to Jonathan Colgan, spokesman for the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The worst hasn't hit yet, Colgan said. Summer demand will likely push the prices up even higher, he said.
The average New Hampshire price is now $3.09 for a gallon of regular, according to Nick Wollner, spokesman for Automobile Association of America Northern New England in Concord.
Wollner said the pressure on prices is due to the weak dollar, unrest abroad, OPEC's decision not to increase production and increased international demand. But there also are factors pushing prices down — a slowing economy, U.S. oil reserves at their highest levels in years and consumers. They're not buying as much gas.
Phil Davis can't avoid driving to work. The Manchester resident works at Pinkerton Academy in Derry. But he is cutting back on unnecessary travel.
"I'm not going out so much as I used to," he said. "The gas prices are through the roof. Unreal."
Kevin Waterhouse, owner of the Mobil gas station at Waterhouse's Country Store in Windham, said his customers are still buying gas, despite the price spikes.
"I haven't noticed any decrease in demand, other than the normal winter slowdown," he said. "But I do believe when people start thinking about summer travel, they will be very aware of how expensive gas is. I'm especially troubled for our truckers for the cost of diesel."
People are changing their driving habits, according to a random survey of people at area grocery markets and gas stations. But sometimes, they have few options.
Karen Norris of Auburn said she tries to consolidate trips, but that's hard with children.
"Car pooling isn't an option," she said.
Elizabeth Gasior of Windham said she doesn't know what to do and worries what will happen next year.
"They're so high," she said. "It's not just gas prices. It's oil heating, too. I don't see any future in that. I don't know what's going to happen."
Kathy Garlington of Derry Cycle said a few customers have mentioned "it might be time to switch" from a car to a motorcycle, but so far, she hasn't seen a big increase in demand.
"It wouldn't cost as much to drive," she said. "A full tank is really small money."
She estimates her husband, who drives a Virago motorcycle, gets 150 miles to the gallon.
Peter McNamara of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association said dealers are hearing some customers grumble about the price of running a car.
"It's not just gas prices," he said. "It's also the housing crunch and energy. It all affects consumers."
McNamara didn't have sales figures for 2008, but said so far, higher gas prices haven't translated into higher sales of smaller vehicles, although hybrid sales did increase in 2007.
Although the government can't put a lid on gasoline prices, it can set policies that will ultimately ease the burden on American families, according to Julie Ruggiero, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy.
"These are long-term policies," she said. "This problem was not created overnight, and it's not going to be solved overnight."