The hard pinch in gasoline prices: Upper Valley feels the impact of rising fuel spending


Cathi Haley of Corinth watches the price rise at the pump, eventually stopping at $47.50, as she fills her tank at Jake’s Market & Deli in Lebanon, New Hampshire, Monday, March 7, 2022. Haley, who works in home health care and drives around the Upper Valley to see several clients a day, says she was hoping gas prices would come down after the weekend, but they only seem to be going up. Photo by Alex Driehaus/Valley News/Report for America

Editor’s Note: This story by John Lippman first appeared in the Valley News on March 7.

Suspension of the operation of a timber harvesting business. Rerouting of drivers. Not filling vacancies. Cancellation of Netflix.

These are some of the ways residents and businesses in the Upper Valley are managing the spike in gasoline and diesel prices triggered by Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and the aftershocks that rocked markets. global tankers that pushed the price of crude oil to its highest level in almost 14 years. years.

“We stopped harvesting lumber late last week because prices wouldn’t support $5 a gallon of diesel,” said Stacey Thomson, owner of Thomson Timber Harvesting and Trucking in Orford, New Hampshire. Heavy idling woodworking equipment normally consumes about 300 gallons of diesel fuel per week.

“You can’t put a fuel surcharge on the logging industry because the sawmills won’t take it,” Thomson said.

On Monday, AAA reported that the national average price for regular gasoline reached $4.065 a gallon, the highest price seen since July 2008, when gasoline peaked at $4.11 a gallon. When adjusted for inflation, gas is expected to hit $5.20 a gallon to match Great Recession highs.

In northern New England, where energy costs tend to be higher, the price of gasoline at the pump exceeded the national average.

The price of regular unleaded gasoline in Vermont was up $4.10 a gallon as of 3:15 p.m. Monday, nearly five cents higher than the previous day and 76.1 cents higher than the average price of a month ago, according to GasBuddy.com, which tracks gas prices nationwide.

In New Hampshire, a gallon of regular unleaded costs $4.12, up 4 cents from the previous day and 76.1 cents from the prior month.

New Hampshire and Vermont ranked the 18th and 20th most expensive states in the United States for gas.

There’s a shortage of gasoline at suppliers right now, and the cost has been rising day by day, said Bruce Bergeron, owner of convenience store and gas station chain Jake’s Market & Deli. , based at nine locations in the Upper Valley, which gets updates each evening at 6 p.m. and midnight from its suppliers Irving Oil and Mobil Oil.

Bergeron said the price at the pump is largely out of his control and he earns the same profit of 12.5 cents per gallon regardless of his wholesale cost, although as a retailer, Jake’s may be the recipient of public invective over gas prices.

“I had one of my guys curse while he was on the outside to change the price,” Bergeron said Monday.

Congress is currently considering a measure that would ban imports of Russian oil, but given that the United States only buys about 8% of its oil from Russia, Bergeron does not foresee a critical disruption in availability.

“We have other sources of supply that can compensate for the Russian side,” Bergeron said. “But it will be more expensive because everyone else in the world will be looking to offset their Russian crude.”

Gasoline prices above $4 a gallon are displayed on a pump at Jake’s Market & Deli in Lebanon, New Hampshire, Monday, March 7, 2022. Photo by Alex Driehaus/Valley News/Report For America

Cathi Haley, who provides home care to four elderly Upper Valley clients and drives hundreds of miles in her car every week to get from her home in Corinth to their homes in Lebanon, New Hampshire, said ‘She understood that the war in Ukraine was affecting what she pays for gasoline, but she can’t pass the increased costs on to her customers.

On Monday, Haley had just filled up her 2017 Toyota RAV4 at Jake’s on Mechanic Street in Lebanon, where she paid $4.09 a gallon for regular unleaded, for a total of $48.

A few weeks ago, she says, it cost $36 to fill her tank. She fills her tank twice a week, so Haley now pays an extra $24 a week for gas, which equates to about an hour’s income.

“I just have to absorb it,” Haley said, saying it wouldn’t be fair to change the fees agreed with her clients for her services, adding that she makes it a point to go to her clients first. the furthest, then stopping at customers in Thetford and Piermont, New Hampshire, on the way back to Corinth to save on mileage and gas.

“That way it’s a big back and forth with a few little back and forths,” she said.

For those who depend on their vehicles to earn money, rising gas prices are adding another burden to the daily cost, said Ed Hood Jr., who drives about 40 hours a week for UVER, the service of delivery of meals from restaurants in the Haute Vallée.

When he first started driving for UVER a few months ago, Hood said it cost him about $22 to fill up his 6-cylinder Chevy Malibu, but now it’s costing him $32.

“I’ve already filled up three times this week,” he said.

To slow rising costs, Hood said he belongs to shopper loyalty programs that cut pennies per gallon off the price at the pump, but he also spends more time researching the best deals at stations. -service.

For example, Hood said he makes sure to take advantage of “customer appreciation day” on Mondays and Tuesdays at George’s AG Super Value Market near his home in Enfield, where “gas is a little cheaper “.

As UVER pays its drivers according to a distance-related formula, there is no adjustment for fuel costs (tipping is the other source of income for UVER drivers).

Hood therefore had to make adjustments elsewhere, such as canceling his Netflix subscription.

“It’s almost $15 a month. I can watch another channel,” he said.

Due to rising gas prices, UVER, which now has 12 Upper Valley restaurants in its consortium and 11 drivers, needs to “become really strategic in our allocation,” said UVER Director Chris Acker.

This means that rather than dispatching one order at a time, it will now try to combine two or three orders from the same restaurant with the same driver.

“If the orders are within a certain time frame of each other, we might take a few extra minutes for those deliveries and hold them specifically and tell the drivers to wait until they’re all done,” Acker said.

Jim Donison, head of public works in Lebanon, said he was watching rising diesel prices and the increases could punch through his department’s 2022 budget, forcing it to scrap some projects.

When Donison set the budget, he estimated that the highway department alone would need $87,500 for the 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel it plans to use during the year, versus $77,100 budgeted. for 2021.

These projections were based on a retail price of $4.00 per gallon for diesel (municipalities do not pay some of the fuel taxes, bringing the actual cost to the city down to around $3.50 per gallon ).

“I noticed yesterday that there are places now selling diesel for $5 a gallon,” Donison said.

When the price of diesel rises above $4 a gallon, “that’s when it starts to dig into our overall operating budget,” Donison said, saying the department may have to skip purchasing materials or postpone the painting of the road lines.

“We haven’t had those discussions yet,” Donison said. “But we’ll probably start getting them.”

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