O&A Masthead

Colorado News —
December 2001

Columnist — Joyce Trent

COLORADO SPRINGS — An independent service station started what motorists hope is a trend. The U-Pump-It station on the city’s south side has dropped the price of regular unleaded gasoline below a dollar a gallon.

Most stations around the city were charging from $1.03 to $1.07 per gallon at the end of November.

"Our station is famous for having the cheapest gas in town," said owner Esam Demian at the U-Pump-It. "We have people driving here from miles away to buy gas from our station."

Colorado flag

The station was doing a brisk business the day before Thanksgiving and customers were "very happy" about the prices said Jill Demian, the owner’s wife, as she busily collected money from the customers.

The last time gasoline was below a dollar here was in March 1999 when there was an oil glut. Soon after that the price of crude oil began to climb and so did gas prices. Last June the price of unleaded regular sold for $1.77 a gallon here.

Low crude prices, competition, and a lower demand in recent weeks brought gasoline prices down said John Bennitt, a spokesman for Conoco. "Crude prices are very low compared with a year ago and earlier this year," he said. "People aren’t driving as much and stations are using price as a way to attract customers."

Demian expects other stations to follow his lead and drop prices — in which case he will lower his prices even more. "I think it’s going to go down to 80 to 85 cents by Christmas," he said, "unless OPEC tries to cut production."

But he added, "If global events suggest shortages of crude oil, gas prices could go back up as fast as they came down."

DENVER — The price of gasoline depends on OPEC at this time, according to Jerry Butman, a wholesale representative with Sinclair Oil in Denver. "If Russia holds firm, OPEC could launch a price war that drives crude prices into the low teens," he said.

As street prices for gasoline approach the $1.00 per gallon mark, Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, said several trends are at work. He cited a weakening economy, less air travel (which reduces the need for jet fuel), and even the mild weather which means the sale of less heating oil. Also, he said, there have been no pipeline disruptions or refinery outages to constrict supply.

He mentioned a refinery fire last summer that helped drive gasoline prices up to the record high in Colorado of $1.82 per gallon of unleaded.

DENVER — The lady bandit was motherly looking and so courteous — she always said please and thank you — that service station operators had a hard time believing she was there to rob them.

But they forked over the cash when she put her hand in her purse, indicating she had a gun.

The crime spree ended after a month and eight robberies at service stations and fast-food outlets because the bandit forgot to change the license plate on her getaway car, authorities said.

Cynthia Konkel, 53, was arrested at the apartment she shared with her husband in a complex for the low-income elderly and disabled in Englewood, CO.

The graying Konkel allegedly told authorities she did it to put food on the table and to buy medicine she could not afford. She never got more than $100, authorities said.

DENVER — Metro area police have also stopped the gang they call the "Jawa Bandits."

Dressed in masks and hoods depicting "Star Wars" characters, the duo robbed 14 gas stations, hotels, and food stores in two weeks.

Terry McCoy, 26, and Russel Baker, 25, were arrested by a stakeout crew at the scene of one of the crimes.

But police are still looking for the guy they dubbed the "Hard-Boiled Bandit." Afflicted with a large boil on the left side of his face, the man has robbed 18 gas stations and check-cashing stores in the Denver area recently.

He is also described as being between 40 and 60, between 5’8" and 6 feet fall, with a pot belly, long gray hair, and a goatee. He is apparently a Colorado Avalanche fan as he wears an Avalanche cap.

AROUND COLORADO — Retailers are offering a lot of bargains to attract customers.

A Conoco station in Colorado Springs gave discounts to students at the nearby college at the start of the semester.

A King Soopers grocery store in Denver offered 99-cents-a-gallon gasoline with a Sooper card.

Other convenience stores are offering more varieties of food to bring in customers.

BOULDER — The U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities program has the attention of cities in Colorado.

A cool letter carrier saved a gasoline station from burning and possibly several lives when he came to the rescue of a mother and her two young children recently.

Lori Gunderson was filling her tank at a Texaco at Elder and Broadway when her van caught fire. She extinguished the flame on her arm and got her eight- and four-year-old daughters out and into the station but had no idea how to stop the van from burning.

Letter carrier Tim "Mac" McTearnen had just finished his route when he spotted the fire. He ran around to the back of the station and turned off the emergency shutoff valve to the pumps. Then he raced inside, got the fire extinguisher, and doused the flames on the van.

The van caught fire, authorities said, when a static electricity spark from the driver’s sweater ignited the gasoline fumes. The incident occurred as Ms. Gunderson was getting out of the van to top off the tank. She had set the fuel hose on automatic to sit with her children inside.

For his heroics the letter carrier earned himself a nomination from his employer as "Employee of the Month" and the undying gratitude of Gunderson.

"My mechanic said he had only heard of one other case where static electricity did this and in that one the woman had third-degree burns, the car burned to the ground, and the station was partially burned," said Gunderson.

DENVER — The merger of Conoco Inc., and Phillips Petroleum should not affect prices at the pump, predicted industry experts.

Conoco operates or franchises 400 gasoline stations in Colorado; Phillips, 170. Together they account for an estimated 20% of the gasoline retailers in the state.

Lindsay Hutter, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said the merger should not lead to higher prices because consumers still will have many choices.

John Bennitt, Conoco spokesman, said federal law prevents oil companies from dictating prices to franchisees. Most Conoco stations in Colorado are franchises.

However, the new company may have to sell some refineries or retail operations to satisfy antitrust guidelines, some analysts said.

Originally published in the December 2001 issue of the O&A Marketing News.
Copyright 2001 by KAL Publications Inc.

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