As gas prices plummet, drivers rejoice

01/20/2016 12:03 PM |

gas_costco

Just over a year ago, the headline atop one story in this paper read: “Drivers welcome ‘awesome’ gas prices at the pump.” It was December 2014 and the cost of a gallon of regular gas was $3.05.

How quickly times have changed.

Fast-forward 13 months and, if drivers felt those prices were awesome, a new slate of adjectives would be needed to describe the current state of gas prices: Magnificent? Jaw-dropping? Mind-blowing?

Across the North Fork this month, gas prices have tumbled to less than $2 a gallon, reaching lows many people never imagined would return. It’s been a boon for the wallets of drivers everywhere, especially those who drive for work.

The motor club AAA tracks daily averages across the country and a spokesperson there said that the last time gas prices dipped under $2 in Nassau and Suffolk counties was Jan. 31, 2009. Prices are not tracked specifically for the North Fork or East End.

“I’ve been in the business over 30 years and I’ve never, ever seen it like this,” said Steven Tekel, who owns the BP gas station in Mattituck.

Mr. Tekel said he started in the business by pumping gas and slowly worked his way up to where many of his customers now know him by his first name. He’s worked across Long Island, first learning the business in East Meadow. He’s been at the BP station for about 12 years, he said.

While lower gas prices are great for consumers, it has much less of an impact on the gas stations that supply the fuel, Mr. Tekel said.

“Even at 99 cents or $4.99, you’re going to make the same amount of money to stay in the business,” he said. “So it doesn’t change anything for us. But for the consumer, it’s a big, big difference.”

As Mr. Tekel explained, when prices are higher, it simply means the gas station must pay more to purchase the supply it then sells to consumers. Profit margins generally stay the same.

As of Tuesday morning, the national average for regular gas was $1.88, according to AAA. For Nassau and Suffolk, the current average is $2.12, a 14 percent drop from a year ago, when it was $2.44. Gasoline reached an all-time high of $4.35 on July 8, 2008.

Mr. Tekel said he expects the prices to continue to fall to about $1.50. As of Monday morning, the price for regular at BP was $2.05 and Mr. Tekel said it would likely drop under $2 after a new delivery.

Lawrence Hynes filled up his Honda Accord at the Valero in Wading River Monday afternoon, where the cash price for regular gas was $1.87, one of the lowest on the North Fork. Mr. Hynes, who lives in Wading River, said he and his wife had been talking earlier in the day about how low the cost to heat their home was when they first got married.

“It’s good for people because the cost of oil is down and especially people that are on low income that they can afford to heat their home this winter,” he said. It took barely $11 worth of gas to fill up his car.

The oil industry is currently at its lowest point since at least the 1990s, according to the New York Times, which isn’t all good news. As many as 250,000 oil workers have lost their jobs, the Times reported this week. The current drop is attributed largely to basic supply and demand. Production in the domestic United States has increased in recent years and greater competition from Asian markets has forced the biggest overseas suppliers like Saudi Arabia to lower prices, the Times reported.

Tony Mendez of Wading River was filling up at the Wading River Valero Monday. “I’m loving it,” he said, adding that the savings in home heating oil has been huge so far this winter.

“I’m driving more because I can afford to use the gas more,” he said.

More people driving can present a problem, however, with the current focus on climate change and fuel emissions.

“A great deal of evidence suggests that [low gas prices] are bad for the environment,” wrote Jeff Sommer in the New York Times last month.

Kathryn Zukowski of Southold was filling her Ford SUV at the Cutchogue Valero Saturday. She said the lower gas prices likely wouldn’t lead her to travel any more than normal. On that day, regular gas was going for $1.99 a gallon, although Mr. Zukowski paid $2.11 for using a debit card.

It was still a great price, although looking ahead, she noted: “I certainly don’t want to pay like $2.50.”

By Tuesday the price of a gallon of regular at Cutchogue Valero had dropped to $1.93.

Yes, times have changed.

Photo Caption: The gas price listed at Costco in Riverhead on Wednesday was $1.84 for regular. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

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