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Article Archive >> Community

Daze of My Life: Over a Barrel

Daze of My Life
Over a Barrel

I realize that I will never understand the hardships and difficulties that the oil companies and natural gas providers in this country--and those beyond our borders who likewise provide America with oil and gas--have experienced as a direct or even indirect result of Hurricane Katrina. I can't begin to imagine the heart-wrenching (and gut-wrenching, too) decisions that had to be made, given the supply and demand facts before them, that led to the prices at the pump having to rise so exponentially. Nor can I grasp the financial and maybe even business risks that these oil and gas providers had to endure: not raise prices to consumers and thus suffer through a non-recording-breaking quarterly profit cycle or, raise prices so fast and so furiously that some stations, it was reported, increased their gasoline prices multiple times--in ONE DAY, and have to respond to the public outcry, accordingly. Well, as we all know, the oil companies chose the latter and we've been paying for it ever since.
In all insincerity, it must be quite challenging to run a business where there's a need to raise prices frequently throughout the day, and overnight as well, just to meet expenses or maybe even turn a profit. No wonder my local service station recently installed a digital price-of-gasoline sign replacing the one with the metal signs/numbers. Now, all the station attendant has to do to change the price is press a button or two from inside the station. No more will that attendant have to leave his money-collecting post inside the station to walk outside, ladder and metal sign/numbers in-hand, 25 yards to the price sign, prop his ladder against the sign, climb up six or eight rungs, steady himself and change the sign/price.
Do you know how time consuming this changing of the price guard is? Neither do I. But certainly this is time uselessly spent that an employee could otherwise be collecting, counting and registering our hard-earned money thereby speeding up the "getting gas" experience for those of us still waiting in line so as to make our visit as pleasant as possible. Moreover, given the excruciating fact that the average price of unleaded regular gasoline in our Metropolitan area was, until recently, hovering around $3.50 per gallon, hardly a pleasant experience, something had to be done. And since prices apparently can't go down as quickly as they went up, the old sign went down instead. Indeed, a sign of the times.
As a related benefit to consumers, the new digital sign means that the station probably doesn't need that former sign employee. Furthermore this station manager now has an additional way to manage his overhead (reducing his labor costs) and therefore have an opportunity to keep the cost of gasoline from rising any higher. In either scenario, with or without this employee, the consumer wins. Now that's what I call, corporate sensitivity to the consuming public.
And in consideration of the commodities' fact that the price of oil is back down to pre-Katrina levels and, the price spike during Katrina's wrath was for OCTOBER delivery (of oil) TO THIS COUNTRY, but has now changed to SEPTEMBER. It takes more than a few weeks for oil to end up in your local service station as gasoline, why did the price of gasoline go up so quickly and why has it gone down so slowly? Do the oil and gas companies have to have it both ways? Apparently so. (This lack of responsiveness to market conditions merely confirms how little I know about such business/money-making endeavors.)
Nevertheless, I'll be eager to hear how the oil and gas companies' public relations' people attempt to spin the grotesque and record-smashing quarterly revenue/profit figures that they'll likely be reporting during the next grading period. Fortunately, that's not my problem; my problem is paying the prices, not justifying them.

Kenneth B. Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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