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Tri-Cities gas pricesincrease 30 cents

JEFF KEELING • Mar 5, 2007 at 11:21 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Gas prices have jumped more than 30 cents over the past month or so, but those close to the supply chain say their future direction is anyone's guess.

Predicting "pain at the pump" is just about as difficult for local oil distributors at it is for motorists, a Mountain Empire Oil Co. executive said Thursday.

Prices in Johnson City were nearing $2.30 a gallon for regular unleaded Thursday, up more than 15 percent from late January. The U.S. Energy Department reported Monday that the nationwide average was its highest since September.

Mountain Empire Oil Vice President John Kelly said his company gets the gas for its area Roadrunner Markets from Shell and BP, and those companies' prices stem from what's happening on the New York Stock Exchange each day.

"They don't really tell us what it's going to do because they really can't predict, so it's certainly difficult for us to predict what gasoline prices are going to do," Kelly said.

Kelly said refinery fires in Texas and Canada may have impacted prices because gas inventories tend to stay tight.

"Anytime there's a little bit of a kink in that supply chain, it generally causes a disruption," Kelly said.

AAA of East Tennessee's Fuel Gauge Report Wednesday cited an increase in crude oil prices, partially created by speculators looking for quick cash as refiners make their annual switch to cleaner-burning summer blends, as well as "geopolitical tensions" for higher gas prices.

Kelly, though, said it is difficult to tie gasoline prices to anything consistently.

His statement is reflected in the prices of crude oil and gasoline. A barrel of oil costs about 10 percent less than it did one year ago, but a gallon of gas costs 13 cents more on average than a year ago.

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