Gas prices have jumped more than a quarter per gallon in the past two months, and they're not likely to decrease significantly until the end of the summer -- if then -- analysts predict.
For three consecutive days last week, Colorado's statewide average for regular unleaded gasoline broke record highs, topping out at $1.853 per gallon before dropping slightly toward the end of the week.
Local fuel prices averaged 6 cents per gallon more than the state average, with some Steamboat stations charging drivers $1.949 per gallon for regular unleaded. The Mount Werner Sinclair and the On the Way stations were the most expensive in an informal survey of local fuel prices last week. The Fuel Stop had the cheapest gas at $1.829 per gallon.
It was barely more than two months ago that the average price for regular unleaded fuel was $1.656 per gallon in Steamboat.
But escalating prices aren't stopping people from hitting the gas pumps, as Craig resident Paul Auwaerter did Thursday at The Fuel Stop in west Steamboat.
"I think most people figure if you need to pay it, you need to pay it," said Auwaerter as he filled up his Ford F-150 pickup. "We're still paying a lot less than other people."
Fuel prices in Craig are nearing $2 per gallon, he said, so he decided to fill up while doing some shopping in Steamboat.
"It's bizarre. (With Steamboat) being a resort town, you'd expect the prices to be a little higher," Auwaerter said.
Prices are higher in the resort towns of Vail and Aspen, where per gallon costs reached $2.10 and $2.30, respectively, last week.
Mary Greer, a spokeswoman for AAA Colorado, said varying prices within a particular region usually are dictated by the amount of competition and the proximity to fuel sources. Mountain towns have more expensive gasoline because of the additional cost of trucking fuel to more remote locations and because there are fewer stations competing for business and higher real estate costs.
But the nationwide climb in gas prices is caused by more global factors, particularly an increase in demand met by a decrease in oil production and an increase in crude oil prices, Greer said.
Americans are consuming 5 percent more energy than the three-year average, and refineries can't keep up with the increased demand.
"We're just about at capacity if all refineries are up and running," Greer said. "The good news is there hasn't been a broken pipeline or a refinery fire. Either could cause a wild spike in prices."
Even in the absence of a "wild spike," prices likely will continue to increase over the summer. And the fondness Americans have for road trips isn't expected to wane because of it, Greer said.
"Everybody likes to hop in that car and visit you guys up in Steamboat and elsewhere," she said.
AAA Colorado is unsure how summer travel will be affected by fuel prices, but only those on very fixed incomes tend to curb travel plans because of gas costs, Greer said.
Even if gas prices rose another 50 cents per gallon, a 1,000 mile trip in a car that gets 20 miles to the gallon would only cost a family an additional $25, she said.
But there are fuel- and money-saving options for those who are interested.
"People think there's nothing they can do," Greer said. "Prices may be up, but there are things you can do."
The first is taking proper care of your automobile, she said.
Keeping tires properly inflated and making sure they have the correct amount of tread can increase fuel efficiency by 10 percent.
Checking belts and hoses for dryness and cracks, checking oil, brake, transmission and power steering fluid levels and inspecting or replacing a car's fuel filter and air filter also can increase fuel efficiency up to 10 percent.
Carpooling, combining trips and renting a car for travel also are wise options for drivers, Greer said.
"Take a look at how you use your vehicle," she said. "Are you using the SUV when you could be using your smaller car?
"Combine your trips. Stop at the store or the mall on your way to and from work instead of making a special trip. The short hauls burn more fuel."
And if people really want to have an impact on gas prices they can make a concerted effort to reduce their driving. Less driving means less fuel, which means less demand and eventually lower prices, Greer said.
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