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Q&A: Gas prices, postal slogan

Why gas prices rise

Can you tell me why gas prices have gone up so much in the past month when the price of oil has not risen and there are no problems in the Middle East or hurricanes barrelling through the Gulf of Mexico?

Gas prices routinely fluctuate according to any number of circumstances, including the factors you mention and many more.

In early November, gas prices seemed on a downward spiral, dipping to just more than $3 for a gallon of regular in the Tampa Bay area.

AAA, which monitors gas prices closely, estimated on Nov. 20 that gas prices would continue to be low compared to previous years. "Drivers can find stations selling gas for less than $3 per gallon in the vast majority of states," AAA said.

But less than a week later, the landscape had shifted.

Refineries along the Gulf Coast started having maintenance issues that cut into their output capacity. That lower supply pushed prices up sharply, moving Florida into the "red zone as one of the state's with the nation's highest gas prices," according to AAA.

The good news is that the gas price hikes should be temporary, AAA predicted. Once those refineries return to full production, gas prices should start falling again.

But some analysts wonder if there isn't more going on. The sharp increase in U.S. oil exports may be creating a scenario that bumps up gas costs for American consumers.

How is that possible? Oil bound for overseas markets doesn't require a costly ethanol blend, as U.S. gas does, and oil can be shipped to foreign countries cheaper than it can be shipped to U.S. ports thanks to a 1920 law that requires goods transported between U.S. ports to be carried on vessels made and based in the United States, and staffed mostly by U.S. citizens.

"I can ship a barrel of gasoline across the Atlantic for one-third the cost of shipping it to New York from Houston," Fadel Gheit, an oil and gas analyst at Oppenheimer, recently told Bloomberg.

Those factors make what Gheit called a "double whammy" of more expensive gas for U.S. consumers. "The benefits of cheap U.S. energy are being exported overseas," he told Bloomberg.

'Neither snow nor …'

From whom and when did the familiar postal service slogan originate?

The U.S. Post Office doesn't have an official motto, according to its website. The phrase "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" is attached to the USPS because it's inscribed on the façade of the James A. Farley Post Office building in New York. Greek historian Herodotus originally wrote that phrase to describe the swiftness of Persian messengers during wars with Greece around 480-490 B.C.

Compiled from Times and wire reports. To submit a question, email answers@tampabay.com.

Q&A: Gas prices, postal slogan 12/05/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 12:12pm]
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