There's a revolution of sorts brewing at a small gas station near Fallston, North Carolina. The Rockett Express has shut down its gas pumps in protest over high prices. The owners say they would rather stop selling gasoline than pass along to their customers the additional 11 cents more per gallon they say they have to pay than their brand-name competitors down the road.
The 'outrage' factor has spread. In the San Diego area, at least three independent stations also closed in protest after they say they were quoted 40 cents per gallon more than their brand-name competitors.
It's one thing when customers can't afford the gas, but it would seem to be a whole different ballgame when the gas stations can't afford to buy it. And as the price of oil keeps ticking ever higher, this could be just a hint of what lies ahead.
The cost of gasoline has become an incendiary election-year issue even though there may be little politicians can do to affect gas prices. Democrats and Republicans are lining up to say they're on the side of consumers.
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist sent a letter to President Bush on Monday urging his administration to keep a close eye out for price gouging. On Tuesday, Bush announced a federal probe into cheating in gas markets.
Democrats, meanwhile, stood up to say that not only does the White House need to investigate price gouging, but let's also take a look at those plush subsidies and tax breaks that the oil industry got in last year's energy bill. Big oil was granted billions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives over the next decade.
As consumers struggle to make ends meet and the price of fuel skyrockets, many people are asking: Why does an industry that is making record profits need a government handout? Weren't those subsidies designed to keep prices down?
For the record, the five largest oil companies, Exxon Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips took home more than $111 billion in profits last year. That's greater than the GDP of 174 of the world's countries (2005 figures). With oil above $70 a barrel, it would hardly seem necessary to encourage people to go out and look for it, yet the government still does. Some people argue that without subsidies, the price of gas would be higher still.
There is something to be thankful for in all this: Thankful that you're not buying gas in Norway, England or Italy, where it hovers around the $6.00 per gallon mark. Alternately, you could wish you filled up your car in Kuwait, where gas is about 78 cents per gallon, or Caracas, where Venezuelans are paying a little over a dime. Or you can get used to paying $3.00 per gallon right here at home, because that's probably where it's going to stay for a while.
Just keep your fingers crossed that nothing disrupts the supply chain, because if it does, the price could go even higher.