South Carolina gas prices going up, but by how much? Experts disagree

gmartin@islandpacket.comFebruary 22, 2012 

  • Beaufort

    $3.48: Enmark, 2205 Boundary St.

    Bluffton

    $3.38: Parker's, 2 Gateway Village Road

    Hilton Head Island

    $3.47: BP, 1 Gumtree Road

    Source: www.southcarolinagasprices.com

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The price of gasoline -- which has soared about 25 cents locally in the past two weeks -- will continue to climb in South Carolina, although experts disagree about what's driving the increase.

GasBuddy, a Minnesota-based business tracking gasoline prices at more than 140,000 stations in the U.S. and Canada, issued a release Wednesday cautioning that prices in South Carolina could go up another 5 to 20 cents per gallon by Monday.

The company cited a recent fire at a refinery in Washington state and rising spot prices in the Great Lakes region as the main factors contributing to the spike.

Tom Crosby, vice president of communications for AAA Carolinas, questioned that report's methodology.

"Neither one of those (reasons) will have that much of an effect us," he said. "South Carolina gets all of its oil from the Gulf Coast."

Crosby agreed prices probably will continue to rise, both locally and nationally, as refineries begin to produce more expensive seasonal blends of gas to combat air pollution. It's an annual, predictable phenomenon, he said, as producers look to curb smog exacerbated by higher summer temperatures.

However, Crosby said local gas prices are more apt to be influenced by global events affecting the Gulf Coast market.

"What's happening with Iran now, where they're threatening to constrict their supply, that's something that would make more markets buy from the Gulf Coast and drive up its demand and our prices," he said.

The record-high gas price in the state was $4.12 per gallon on Sept. 15, 2008. Crosby said he doesn't expect the hysteria and long lines at the pumps that accompanied those prices.

"At that particular time, there were some supply issues," he said. "I don't know that we'll see that again."

Crosby added that the disparity in gas prices in regional markets is wider than he's ever seen it, but that the South Carolina average was among the country's lowest.

Jason Toews, co-founder of GasBuddy, said the regional volatility wasn't unusually high.

"The gap is larger than normal right now, but it's not that dramatic or dangerous," he said. "The whole system is too interconnected to allow that."

The rising prices are already being felt at Low Country Motors, a used-car dealership in Bluffton.

"We're trying to buy more cost-efficient cars than we were just a couple weeks ago," said owner Mike Cody.

"I just got back from trips to Florida and North Carolina, and these prices are all anyone can talk about."

Brenda Rindge of The (Charleston) Post and Courier contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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