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Tampa Bay area drivers feeling pain at the pump

Susan Bamberger of Zephyrhills pumps gas at a Shell station in Tampa on Friday. “You know, I only put $20 of gas in and I thought to myself that this isn’t going very far,” she said.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Susan Bamberger of Zephyrhills pumps gas at a Shell station in Tampa on Friday. “You know, I only put $20 of gas in and I thought to myself that this isn’t going very far,” she said.

Motorists across Florida are getting whacked with a steep hike in gas prices.

At a Sunoco station on S Howard Avenue in Tampa, the price of a gallon of regular unleaded rose from $3.17 Thursday morning to $3.29 later in the day. Down the street at a Circle K, it went from $3.09 to $3.31.

"Summer has not even kicked in yet," said Rohit Sehgal, a 32-year-old New Jersey software consultant filling up at Metro Gas on W Kennedy Boulevard. "And with stuff going on in Libya and other countries, I don't know what's going to happen."

Experts say it will get worse.

The initial spike this week was a response to speculators' concerns that oil production and exports would be disrupted.

Oil climbed as high as $103 per barrel on Thursday before the International Energy Agency said Libyan violence has forced oil companies to idle between 500,000 and 750,000 barrels per day of production. That's less than 1 percent of global daily oil consumption.

The biggest concern now is not Libya but whether the crisis spreads through the Persian Gulf's bigger energy producers. Bahrain's government is facing daily protests, and there are fears that Saudi Arabia's royal family may be next in line to face the wrath of demonstrators.

"If the political unrest was to spread to the world's largest oil producer, markets would have to discuss the possibility of a new oil crisis and its consequences for the global economy," an analyst at Commerzbank, Ashley Davies, said.

A gallon of regular shot up 11.6 cents in the past three days of the week to a national average of $3.29, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That included a spike of nearly 6 cents on Friday, the largest one-day increase since Sept. 14, 2008.

In St. Petersburg, a gallon of regular at the Rally Station at Fourth Street and 22nd Avenue N was $3.29 Friday afternoon. That was up from $3.05 Wednesday morning and $3.15 Thursday morning, said station manager Mark Perreault.

He said customers stopped by Friday to top off their tanks out of fear that the price would continue to spike over the weekend.

"You kind of get this sense of, Oh well, here we go again."

General contractor Chad Pruitt, 26, fills his 30-gallon diesel truck tank twice a week. If he were to drive less, that would mean losing work.

"I think we should start getting our own oil," he said while filling up at the Rally. "But you can't talk about the gulf now. It's a bitter subject."

Yellow Cab driver Ed Brondo, 63, said he drives 5,000 miles a month and fills up twice a day.

"The fare is not going up, but my cost just went up," he said.

At the Metro Gas station on W Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, several customers complained to cashier Waleed Salem.

"We say, 'It's not our fault, it's the company,' " said Salem, 25.

At the Sunoco on S Howard, it cost customer Tom Ford $53.84 to fill up his Mercury. Ford says he saw it coming with the trouble in the Middle East.

"It is what it is," Ford, 58, said. "I don't feel bad about not filling up a few days ago. They'll catch me sooner or later."

Luckily, he said, he drives from his home in Hyde Park to work at Home Depot on N Florida Avenue, but that's about it.

A few pumps down, 25-year-old Nicole Moulton spent $55.50 for 17 gallons. And that wasn't even a full tank. She said she felt worse for her brother in Boston.

He has a one-hour commute.

Times staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this report, which also used information from the New York Times.

Tampa Bay area drivers feeling pain at the pump 02/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 11:19pm]
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