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Pain at the pump arrives earlier than ever

Randy Carls has received a lot of great feedback from customers in the two months since opening Campton Hill's lone gas station and convenience store, the Outpost Marathon station on Route 64, just west of LaFox Road.

"Our customer base has been growing by the day," said Carls, president of Hinckley-based Carls Oil Company. "We've really appreciated the response of the people here in Campton Hills.

"People really seem to appreciate what we've added to the community."

But in the last month, Carls said the positive comments about the store have also been accompanied by concern about the price of the primary product Carls' station sells – gasoline.

"Believe me, I hate it, too, just as much as anyone," Carls said. "Because I have to pay for it just like everyone else."

In the past month, gas station operators in Kane County and elsewhere have been forced to again be the bearers of bad news for motorists, as the price of fuel has quickly increased.

Monday, the price of regular unleaded gasoline in the Tri-Cities and nearby communities in Kane County stood at around $3.95 a gallon.

Throughout the Chicago area, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded stood at $4.05 a gallon, according to the AAA Motor Club's Daily Fuel Gauge report. That represented an increase of about 19 percent from just one month ago, when gas sold for an average price of $3.41 a gallon in the Chicago market, AAA said.

Gas prices normally begin to rise in mid-spring in preparation for the onset of summer driving season and the switch to cleaner burning so-called summer fuel blends. But this year, the price rise comes weeks earlier than normal, said Pete Mancini, president of St. Charles-based fuel distributor and gas station operator Parent Petroleum.

"It seems like the last three years, the price rise has come earlier and earlier," Mancini said. "And this one is the earliest yet."

Mancini said the price increase seems to be tied to the price of the crude oil from which the gasoline is refined.

The price of benchmark commodity West Texas Intermediate crude has increased since mid-December from around $85 a barrel to about $97 a barrel, an increase of 14 percent, according to spot price data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Mancini said there is "no shortage" in the supply of gasoline, or any sudden spikes in demand.

Mancini and Carls said they expect customer complaints will only increase with the price of fuel.

Mancini said he expects it will top $4 a gallon locally very soon, and may push still higher. He expects, however, it will stop short of the local record of around $4.50 a gallon.

"When you start hitting that $4, $4.10 mark, people really start complaining," Mancini said. "And you start feeling the pinch, because it hurts to put $60 into your fuel tank at one time."

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