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      Missourians stretch each gallon as gas prices spike

      Drivers told KRCG Sunday they are doing everything they can to conserve fuel as oil prices continue to rise.

      Fulton resident Gene Niekamp said he has not filled any of his vehicles' gas tanks completely for more than a year. Instead, he said he buys only as much as as he needs, though he added he still fills his tank any time he takes a long trip.

      "My recreation vehicles, my lawnmower, my four-wheeler, I don't fill 'em up anymore," he said. "I just put enough in to get the job done."

      In addition, he said he does not take his family to the Lake of the Ozarks or Cannon Dam on camping trips anymore. Niekamp said he found several good camping areas near Fulton which mean he can conserve the gas in his RV. He said most of his daily driving is in the Fulton area so he hasn't changed his regular driving habits much, but he said he monitors his pickup truck's tire pressure and engine condition much more closely than he used to.

      St. Louis resident Andrea Baxter, speaking in Kingdom City on her way home from this weekend's Show-Me State Games, said the recent price spike didn't make her rethink her decision to attend the games but her family does try to minimize its gas consumption whenever possible. She said she tries to plan all of her errands so she only has to make one or two long runs rather than several short trips throughout the week.

      According to GasBuddy.com, unleaded fuel averaged $3.60 per gallon in Missouri as of Sunday afternoon, the 18th lowest price in the country. South Carolina had the lowest average gas price, at $3.32 per gallon, while Hawai'i had the highest price at $4.27 per gallon. The Wall Street Journal reports Nymex crude oil is currently trading at $108.05 per barrel with Brent crude coming in 2 cents higher.

      Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, told KRCG the biggest factors driving crude oil prices are an increase in consumer demand and the security of the Suez Canal in Egypt. He said the recent political upheaval there has called into question the Egyptians' ability to protect the canal, which is critical to international shipping. He said more than 3 million barrels of oil pass through the canal each day. Laskoski emphasized nobody could close the canal for a long period of time, but even a brief disruption could crimp the world's oil supply.

      "If someone were to target the Suez Canal, because it's so small, it wouldn't be difficult to create havoc there," he said.

      In addition to upheaval abroad, Laskoski said refining capability is a major factor in the supply of fuel. He said with hurricane season underway, there is a chance some storms may hit the Gulf Coast, where much of the nation's refineries are located. He said federal regulations require these refineries to shut down if a hurricane threatens their operations, a process requiring about a week. Starting the refineries back up takes at least that long even if the refineries sustain no damage. Laskoski said releasing fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve does not solve this problem as the Reserve contains crude oil which must be refined before heading to market.

      Niekamp noted the rising oil prices have affected the cost of just about everything else. He said he sets his thermostat higher than he used to in order to reduce air conditioner use. He also said he has noticed food prices increase due to gas prices' impact on shipping.

      "It's all connected," he said.

      In the meantime, McKnight Tire owner Tim McKnight said there are lots of things consumers can do to get more mileage out of their cars. For starters, McKnight said drivers should make sure their cars are in tune by taking them in for their regularly scheduled maintenance and have a tuneup done if needed. He said drivers should also make sure their tires are inflated to the manufacturer's recommended pressure, which can be found on the tire's sidewall, though he cautioned against overinflation as this can lead to abnormal tread wear without providing additional benefit. On the road, McKnight said drivers should avoid speeding, weaving through traffic or making sudden starts and stops. Finally, McKnight said drivers should expect their fuel mileage to vary depending on the terrain they are driving in. As an example, he said Jefferson City's hilly terrain means drivers will burn more fuel there than on Columbia's flatter terrain.

      McKnight said octane ratings, which affect the possibility of premature fuel detonation inside the engine, popularly called engine knock, have little impact. He said lower-grade fuel is generally less efficient than premium gas, but he added lower-octane fuel is also cheaper so the costs of each fuel grade generally offset.