Low gasoline supply is one factor driving fuel prices closer to the $2 range.
By DON SHILLING and CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Tracey Sypherd is used to hearing customers say the McQuaid's Service Center she manages on state Route 46 in Mineral Ridge has the cheapest gas prices in town.
These days, with gas prices soaring closer to the $2-a-gallon range, those low prices are drawing a crowd.
"We were so busy yesterday, we ran out of gas," Sypherd said.
The station, located about a mile north of the busy Interstate 80-Route 46 interchange, was selling regular at $1.54 this morning and had premium gas at $1.69.
And the business offers more than good prices -- they'll pump your gas for you, and full-service is the same price as self-serve. "We have a lot of senior citizens and moms with kids," she said. "They need the extra help."
It's no accident that the Mineral Ridge station's prices are lower than its competition. "We drive up the road every day to check. If I don't do it, my boss will," Sypherd said. "We try to keep our price less than the competition."
What's happening: Gas prices are on the rise around the Mahoning and Shenango valleys -- prices topping $2 for premium have been spotted around the area -- so motorists are on the prowl for the best prices.
A clerk at the Sheetz Convenient Store at 2721 Salt Springs Road in Weathersfield Township said its service station just off I-80 has been "extremely busy" lately. Regular was $1.59 there this morning, and premium was $1.73.
"Customers keep saying it's really high at all the other exits, especially heading into Girard and that direction," the clerk said.
What's behind this: The recent gas price increases result from cuts in supply during the beginning of the busy summer driving season, said Brian Newbacher, a spokesman for the AAA-Ohio Motorists Association in Cleveland.
Some of the problems are long-term, he said. For example, there has been a lack of investment in new refineries and distribution capacity, which reduces the industry's ability to meet higher demand, he said.
Also, the number of blends of gasoline has been increasing and now is at more than a dozen. Different blends are required in various areas of the country to meet federal clean air standards, which raises production costs.
Newbacher said the industry is calling for one national blend, which oil companies say would reduce their costs and lower gas prices.
Recent developments which have hurt supply include a few refinery fires and a problem with a major pipeline, he said. This spring, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cut the amount of oil its members produce in order to boost the price of oil on world markets.
AAA survey: The Ohio Motorists gasoline price survey last Friday showed an average price of $1.64 a gallon for self-serve regular, which was down two cents from a week earlier.
Newbacher said this week's survey will show a much higher price, although final figures were not ready this morning.
For some motorists, the climbing cost of gas doesn't seem to be a major concern.
In Campbell, the BP Oil Co. station at the corner of Coitsville and McCartney roads raised its prices 10 cents a gallon Thursday, but clerk Danielle Gibson of Youngstown said customers weren't saying much about the prices.
Even with regular gasoline selling at $1.79 and premium priced at $1.99, she said she hadn't heard any complaints. "People are still buying what they normally buy," she said.