While ExxonMobil’s leaders bask in their 2006 profits - $39.5 billion, the largest-ever profit in U.S. history, surpassing the previous record of $36.1 billion, also set by ExxonMobil in 2005, according to CNN – fuel prices around the nation continue to creep upward.

Locally, however, prices at the pump have recently inched downward, settling over the weekend at most convenience stores at about $2.59 per gallon for regular unleaded.

The drop seems to echo the Energy Department’s outlook: Nearly two weeks ago, officials said rising gas prices were likely to slow down and average $2.81 per gallon for regular unleaded over the summer, about 3 cents lower the last summer; diesel prices, said the Energy Information Administration, are expected to average $2.82 per gallon, about 6 cents lower than last year.

But with summer just over the horizon, many local residents don’t buy into the optimism. Some expect to pay, almost literally, an arm and a leg for a gallon of gas.

“We hear, ‘Oh, the war in the Middle East is why gas prices are so high,’ and, ‘Well, it’s all based on demand,’ but then we find out this company [ExxonMobil] pulled in the most profit ever in [U.S.] history last year!” said local resident Myrtle Meadows. “Where’s that money going? Why are we still paying $2.79 for gas when some oil tycoon is making record-breaking money? I keep hearing people say we could see gas at $3 per gallon this summer, and it wouldn’t surprise me.”

For Wendy Rozell-Cochran, the prognosis is pretty much the same.

“I think as long as they know that people will be traveling, they will keep the prices high,” said Rozell-Cochran.

With her husband driving more miles per day than many others, a rise in fuel equals a punch in the budget.

“He gets mileage, but that doesn’t cover the gas, let alone the wear and tear,” said Rozell-Cochran. “Gas prices go up, but mileage reimbursement stays the same.”

Perhaps, some local residents suggest, those oil tycoons don’t understand the need to pinch pennies.

ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson raked in more than $18 million in 2006, including $1.5 million in salary, a $2.8 million bonus, $13.6 million from stock and options awards, and nearly $500,000 of other compensation, such as $215,000 for personal security and more than $130,000 for personal use of company aircraft and properties, according to Reuters.

“They can make billions of dollars profit by raising gas prices. They get away with it because they can,” said Rozell-Cochran. “As mad as we get about it, as much as we’d like to boycott; we can’t. We have to go to work, we have to get the kids to school, we have to pay our bills. Oil companies know that, and they know their gas will be purchased no matter what the price.”

That, she believes, is why oil companies make billions of dollars in profit.

“The higher it goes, the less I’ll be traveling,” said Vanessa Long. “If we vacation at all, it’ll be closer to home than we used to travel. Dallas maybe; maybe St. Louis, [Mo.]”

Robert Girty stopped at a local convenience store Monday morning to fill up on regular unleaded.

“I guess it’s better than L.A.,” he said, screwing his gas cap back in place. “I guess up there, they’re paying about $3.25 a gallon already.”

Girty isn’t planning to slow down on his travels over the summer, but has already learned how to conserve.

“Do all the shopping at once, and do it just once a week, instead of going into the grocery store every night, or every other night, to buy one meal,” said Girty. “My wife and I compared how much we spend on gas now [that we try to conserve] to what we used to spend, and we estimate we save maybe $40, $50 a month, even with gas prices higher than they used to be.”

Girty believes the price increase is here to stay, and according to Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., so do others across the U.S.

In a recent survey, NMIC found seven out of 10 vacationers say they will not change their vacation plans because of high fuel prices.

The latest EIA forecast says prices should peak in May at an average of $2.87 a gallon, then decline.

“We think the forecast is about on track,” AAA Spokesman Geoff Sundstrom told the Associated Press.

Based on current market trends, Sundstrom doesn’t believe this year’s summer will see $3 gas around the country.

(In the summers of 2006 and 2005, prices soared above $3: in July 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon, causing crude prices to spike to $76 a barrel, and in 2005’s Hurricane Katrina disaster, which disrupted Gulf Coast supplies.)

EIA’s forecast is not set in stone. With tensions rising between countries around the globe, a new international crisis could well be looming, and natural disasters can occur when least expected.

According to the AP, gasoline prices normally increase before the April-to-September heavy driving season, but prices recently surged during the 2006-’07 winter. The government says unusual early price surges can be attributed to higher crude oil prices, unplanned refinery outages, declining imports from Europe, and an increase in demand.

Government predictions say motorists will use approximately 400 million gallons of gas from April to September.

“Demand for fuel is strong,” said Sundstrom. “We’ve not seen a reduction in fuel use.”

Nor, said Sundstrom, have there been gas shortages, leaving some to wonder if relief will ever really arrive.

“One has to ponder if $3 a gallon is the new threshold to pain,” said Sundstrom.

If so, local residents want to see companies like ExxonMobil give back a little to the public.

“I think Exxon should recognize just who is making them such a nice profit. They should also realize that while their wallets are getting fatter, they are taking away from American families,” said Rozell-Cochran. “Maybe Exxon execs should brag about their $39 billion profit to the children who aren’t going to be able to play little league because Mom and Dad can’t afford the extra driving for practices and games. They should give back to the public by lowering their prices. Can’t they live nicely on, say, $15 billion?”

Contact Josh Newton at jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com.

Learn more

For more information, visit the Energy Information Administration Web site at www.eia.doe.gov.

Trending Video