(CNSNews.com) - The price of oil rose again Tuesday as gasoline prices edged toward an all-time record, leaving customers concerned about what might happen in the coming months if the United States engages in a war with Iraq.
"I don't remember it ever being this high," 68-year-old Rob Dixon said as a friend pumped gas for his minivan at a Hess station outside Washington, D.C. "And I don't think bombing Iraq is going to make it any better."
The gas station was charging $1.67 per gallon - five cents lower than an Exxon station across the street. But both were higher than the national average of $1.66 per gallon, which is creeping closer to the record of $1.71 per gallon set in May 2001.
Lisa Danzler, who commutes 64 miles to and from work each day, said gas has become so expensive for her sport utility vehicle that she is considering buying a smaller car just to drive to work. She fills her SUV three times a week, usually for about $30 each time.
"For regular gas, I'm expecting it to hit $2 at any time," she said. "If you watch the gas, it fluctuates each day by two or three pennies. Definitely by the middle of the summer, we're going to be at $2."
President Bush took the brunt of the criticism for the high cost of gas - mostly because of the impending war with Iraq - but some consumers said oil companies were to blame as well.
Jim Gibson, filling up his SUV Tuesday afternoon, was glad to see that some members of Congress have questioned the high cost of gasoline, which he called price gouging.
"Oil firms are in business to make money, and these guys are opportunists, so if you get a public scare, they could react by raising the price, and people would think it's OK," Gibson said. "But they've gone a little too far in this case."
Gibson's family has three cars, and although he was driving his SUV Tuesday, he said they have made it a priority to carpool or use the vehicle that gets the best gas mileage when taking trips.
While other consumers echoed Gibson's concerns about price gouging, a representative with the American Petroleum Institute denied such allegations, noting that the price of oil depends mostly on market factors.
"We have been investigated many, many times over the course of many years by state and federal governments, and never once has there been any sort of evidence to show that the industry has done anything untoward," spokesman Chris Kelley said.
He also noted that the Federal Trade Commission has kept a close eye on the oil industry the past few months, and so far, no wrongdoing has been detected.
Kelley said there is no way to predict the price of gasoline in the coming months - with or without an Iraqi war. The cost consumers pay at the pump is often determined by the price of crude oil, he added.
Crude oil prices have risen to more than $36 per barrel, up from the mid-$20s last year. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for each dollar increase of crude oil, the price of gas jumps about 2.5 cents.
For William Pannell, who commutes 20 miles from his Maryland home to his job at Reagan National Airport each day, finding affordable gas has become a challenge.
"I shop for gas now. I don't just stop at any gas station. I go to whomever has the best prices," said Pannell, who also fears what the future might hold for filling up his SUV. "If we do go to war, I could see these prices just skyrocketing. But let's hope we don't go to war."
If consumers find themselves paying too much for gas, they might choose to get rid of their gas-guzzling SUVs in favor of smaller cars or hybrid vehicles, said Allen Mattison, spokesman for the Sierra Club.
"We're already seeing a dramatic increase in people buying fuel-efficient vehicles," he said. "People care about saving money. When you get 50 miles per gallon, you're going to be filling up your gas tank half as often as you would if you got 25 miles per gallon. That's common sense - it means you save twice as much money."
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