By Joe Aidonidis
“It basically comes down to how much we can sell, but we have the final say on pricing,” says Paul Huhtala, co-owner of Huhtala Oil Co. and owner of two Shell gas stations. “When it’s all said and done we only make about seven cents for every gallon of fuel we sell.” In the past, Huhtala Oil and other small gas stations made about 30 cents profit off every gallon, but those days are gone.
On March 4, fuel prices in Fitchburg ranged from $3.33 a gallon at the Hess on Route 2A to $3.47 at the Mobil on South Street. Just fourteen days ago, the average price for a gallon of gas was $3.16, according to massachusettsgasprices.com. Last year at this time, the price for a gallon was $2.58.
Times are hard for Huhtala Oil Co. This summer they had to lay off five full-time employees just to stay afloat. Their business is suffering because other small businesses are unable to pay their oil bills. In this bad economy, it becomes a harsh cycle. Prices go up because people can’t pay their bills; people can’t pay their bills because prices are too high. It’s a fierce cycle.
“I don’t know what to tell people,” says Matt Morrissey, part-time cashier at the Shell gas station in Templeton, Mass. “Everyone’s having a hard time right now”.
Morrissey says that customers have been complaining more and more about the recent gas prices. Not surprisingly, people have voiced their frustrations directly to him.
“People have flipped out on me because of the price. Everyone wants someone to blame, and it’s easiest to blame the guy right in front of you. They’re nervous that buying gas will someday be an unpractical option,” says Morrissey. He says that in recent years the complaints have started to become more angry.
According to “Time” magazine, big oil company OPEC boasted profits of $14.6 billion last year. It seems unfair that a handful of people are profiting so much off a commodity our society needs to stay functioning. It is a problem that truly affects everyone.
On March 2, Cleghorn Oil in Fitchburg sold home heating oil at $3.59 a gallon, according to NewEnglandOil.com. That oil burns fast during a winter like this one, with temperatures often dropping below zero. It is illegal in Massachusetts to stop supplying residences with heating oil between September and March. More and more low income families can not pay their heating bills, but still receive oil deliveries. Cleghorn offers fixed or capped plans. Though Huhtala Oil Co. fully supports this law as well, it cuts into profits for the company. No family should go cold, but the current system puts a huge strain on the fuel suppliers and continues to push prices up.
Gas prices reached their highest in the summer of 2008: $4.07 a gallon. But that was followed by a sharp decline. In early 2009, Mass. gas averaged $1.59 a gallon. Only time will tell if we will meet a temporary reprieve soon.