FALMOUTH — Penny Snow figures she may have to pay some money to save some money.

Snow’s husband, who works at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, called her Tuesday morning after his 50-mile commute from their home in South Portland to say they need to think about buying a new car.

Not that there’s anything seriously wrong with the Ford Taurus her husband currently drives, Snow said – except the rate at which it uses gasoline.

“We’re thinking about a Volt or something,” Snow said, referring to Chevrolet’s electric car model as she filled up her minivan Tuesday with $3.759-a-gallon gas at an Irving Station on U.S. Route 1.

Gas prices are at their highest point ever for this time of year, which is still a couple of months away from when prices tend to jump up as the summer driving season kicks into gear. Analysts say we may soon look back wistfully at gas prices below $4 a gallon.

Parking the car and staying home doesn’t provide much solace. Home heating oil prices have flown past the $3.50-a-gallon threshold and are on their way up, too.

“The whole complex (of oil prices) is moving that way,” said Jamie Py, the executive director of the Maine Energy Marketers Association. “That’s a lot of money leaving people’s pockets.”

The exodus of cash from those pockets is likely to continue, said Ben Brockwell, director of data pricing and information services for the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks the oil, gasoline and heating oil markets.

Brockwell said the retail market has yet to reflect recent increases in crude oil prices, which have been climbing sharply since early winter.

“Four dollars (a gallon) is certainly likely by May,” he said.

Brockwell noted that demand isn’t shaping the market, because gasoline use is typically low this time of year; and a mild winter has cut into demand for heating oil. It’s off by about 20 percent from a typical winter, Py said.

Instead, it’s concerns about Iran, which is threatening to cut off some of its oil exports to the West and could try to close the Strait of Hormuz on its western coast to oil tankers, choking off a significant part of the world’s oil. There’s also worry that Israel could bomb Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons development sites, with hard-to-predict consequences for the oil market.

Brockwell said that if none of those events happen, political and consumer pressure could help cap prices this summer. If high fuel costs also cut off the economic recovery, that could help put the brake on prices and create political pressure on the markets to start bringing prices back down, he said.

“Other than that, I don’t see a lot slowing this market down,” Brockwell said.

Those who spend all day behind the wheel are likely to feel the pain of that pricing juggernaut the most.

“I think it’s starting to get scary right now,” said Mike Bailey, a dispatcher and occasional driver for ASAP Taxi in Portland.

Bailey said gas costs about $35 per 12-hour shift for drivers, who also pay the taxi company $87 a shift to lease the cab they drive. That makes it harder to find enough fares to each day to cover the costs and make some money.

He said the company has six hybrid cars, and the drivers who get those “are winning.”

As for the rest, they have to drive Ford Crown Victorias, with miles-per-gallon numbers in the high teens, compared to around 40 miles per gallon for a hybrid.

Then there’s the truckers who may soon start adding a fuel surcharge to help cover the high cost of diesel, said Brian Parke, president and chief executive officer of the Maine Motor Transportation Association, which represents those companies in the state. The price of diesel is significantly higher than it was at this time last year, Parke said.

If the prices continue to rise and truckers have to add that surcharge, he said, manufacturers will add that increased cost to their prices and – you guessed it – the same consumers stressed out by high gas prices for filling their cars will have to pay more for the 80 percent of goods that are shipped by truck.


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