Militant movements in Iraq could cost Utah drivers at the pump

Published: Thursday, June 19 2014 8:10 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, June 19 2014 8:10 a.m. MDT

James Evans talks about gas prices Wednesday, June 18, 2014, as he puts gas in his rental car in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Dennis Woodruff sees headlines about unrest in the Middle East, a part of his mind can't help but turn to his business.

"I'm more concerned about how that affects humanity … but I'd be lying if I said that it's not in the back of my mind," Woodruff said.

In the eight years Woodruff has owned his lawn care and tree removal business, he has watched gas prices climb. He chose compressed natural gas for his two fleet vehicles to avoid high gasoline prices, but if violence in Iraq drives up oil prices, it will still cost him.

"My saws and any kind of other equipment all run on gasoline, so that will make a difference," Woodruff said. "What really hurts is that every time the price of oil goes up and fuel prices go up, then shipping for parts is more and the parts themselves cost more, so consequently my maintenance goes up."

AAA indicated on its Fuel Gauge Report this week that gas prices have started to climb as an al-Qaida-inspired group has taken city after city in a campaign aiming at Iraq's capital. The fighting Wednesday took militants near the nation's largest oil refinery.

In light of the eroding situation in Iraq, AAA predicts drivers will pay between $3.55 and $3.70 for a gallon of unleaded gasoline this summer — and possibly more if the conflict continues.

The national average price had reached $3.66 per gallon Wednesday, while the costs in northern Utah hovered around $3.54, AAA reported.

Gas prices across the country and in Utah are creeping up at a time when they would normally be dropping, AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said Wednesday. For now, the increase is slight, but that could change if the conflict escalates.

"Things could take a definite turn should there be an escalation," Harris said. "Should there be any distribution issues of crude oil from Iraq, that definitely could increase the prices for us as consumers."

Harris, a AAA representative for northern California, Nevada and Utah, said the state could see a temporary trend of spikes and decreases until the situation in Iraq stabilizes.

Woodruff's worries about a hike in gas prices go beyond his business.

"As a father, as a commuter to work, as a dad who wants to take my family camping, increasing gas prices are going to impact that more," he said. "I do realize it's going to affect (my business) down the road, and if it's not this summer it will be this fall, or this winter, or next spring. … That's just the world we live in."

Utah gas prices have dropped 18 cents in a year, making it one of the largest price fluctuations in the country, according to the AAA report. AAA put the average cost of a gallon of unleaded in Utah at $3.75 last June.

Meanwhile, neighboring Nevada's gas prices climbed 18 cents in year, up to $3.81 per gallon, AAA reported.

James Evans, an Idaho driver visiting Utah, said he averages $150 in gasoline per month. Evans said he would consider buying a more fuel-efficient car if gas prices continue to climb, as well as travelling less and telecommuting more.

However, Evans feels confident the conflict in Iraq won't impact the pump too much as the market turns instead to other suppliers.

"It's just economic change, and people have to adapt," he said. "It is what it is."

Ashley Erekson commutes between Salt Lake City and Provo for work and school, filling the tank of her Hyundai Elantra at least three times every two weeks. Rising gas prices would add up fast, she said.

Erekson said she might opt to take public transit, which is less convenient for her route, if costs climb.

"You always know something happening in the Middle East is going to have something to do with your gas," she said as she fueled up for her drive home Wednesday.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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