During the past 10 weeks, gasoline prices in south central Ohio have gone up 54 cents, according to AAA East Central.
According to AAA, the average cost of self-serve gasoline in south central Ohio was $2.568 on March 27, and rose 8 percent this week to $2.656. The national average, they added, is $2.696 per gallon, with oil now at $64 per barrel.
AAA reports the five highest average prices of unleaded self-serve gasoline in the area are: $2.693 in Hillsboro and Ironton; $2.692 in Portsmouth; $2.688 in Marietta; $2.675 in Waverly and $2.668 in Athens. The lowest price reported was $2.570 in Jackson.
“The only possible explanations could be an increase in transportation costs, (or) local monopolies,” said Dr. Chip Poirot, an assistant professor of economics in the social sciences department at Shawnee State University. “I don't see any real evidence that you don't have competition here. It's not like we have a shortage of people selling gasoline.”
According to AAA, refinery problems throughout last month have delayed the U.S. production of gasoline, as well as recent conflicts between London and Tehran that may have similarities to the U.S./Iranian hostage crisis of the 1970s that preceded a sharp increase in gasoline prices.
Analysts at AAA theorized the cost of gasoline might not recede until the 15 British sailors were released from Iran. It was announced on Wednesday, after AAA sent their release, that Iran would free the Britons, who have been held since March 23.
It is unclear how, if at all, this turn of events might affect gasoline prices, but Poirot disagrees with AAA's theories, saying he doesn't believe it had much of an impact to begin with.
“I do think that it was partially responsible, but we're talking magnitude,” Poirot said. “The Iranian hostage crisis sent oil prices up at least 100 percent at the time. The magnitude is a huge difference.”
The magnitude may be diminished, he said, by the fact that the 1970s crisis lasted months, while the current situation only lasted less than two weeks.
“It's not the crisis itself, it's what the crisis signals for expectations and stability for the world markets,” he said.
Poirot speculated that the release of the British sailors might “have a minor effect” on oil costs by 20 or 30 cents over the next three or four weeks.
Tim Loper, of South Shore Gas and Oil, finds the reason for the increase to be more domestic, blaming “supply and demand.”
Lesser traffic areas like Portsmouth, he said, are selling less gasoline, causing them to buy less fuel from their wholesalers, who in turn have to raise their supplier prices across the board to meet their own bottom line. As suppliers' prices go up, so do prices at the pump, he said.
“Until we get the traffic flow back into Portsmouth, like other surrounding communities have, we're going to have this,” Loper said.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235.