LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk
In sign of times, Lawrence gas station owner pulls back a bit on alternative fuels; reports show summer gas prices likely to be higher
I had a reader ask me a question, and this one I can actually repeat in a family-oriented newspaper: Did Lawrence’s Zarco fueling stations give up on selling E-15 gasoline, the ethanol-based fuel that was supposed to put a dent in Big Oil's stranglehold on our wallets?
The answer is no, it did not. But it is a reasonable question because you may have noticed that the Zarco American Fuels station at 1500 E. 23rd St. no longer lists the E-15 product on its sign. That location has stopped selling the E-15 gasoline. But its sister station at Ninth and Iowa streets continues to sell the product. E-15 gasoline is a bit different from what you normally get at the pump because it has 15 percent ethanol. Most other gas brands have ethanol totals at 10 percent or less. The Zarco decision to start offering an E-15 variety was kind of a big deal because Lawrence-based Zarco became the first station in the country to start selling it in 2012. Big Oil did not like that decision, and Zarco leader Scott Zaremba actually ended a 28-year relationship with Phillips 66 to continue selling the product.
But at the 23rd Street store, Zaremba removed the product a couple of months ago and went a different direction. He’s now selling a super premium brand of fuel that has no ethanol in it. Boaters, lawn mower users and other owners of small engines often like fuel free of ethanol because the corn-based ethanol can cause some complications in certain types of small engines.
In some other ways, though, the change is a sign of the times. Oil is cheaper now than it was in 2012 when Zaremba was making the E-15 push. He expects that will be the case for the foreseeable future, which means pressure to create demand for more alternative fuels is waning.
“I don’t think we’re going to see any big advancements in new fuels for quite awhile,” Zaremba said.
That doesn’t mean some of the alternative fuel products —think E-85 ethanol for flex fuel vehicles or compressed natural gas for specially fitted vehicles — will go away. Zaremba thinks the infrastructure will remain in place to deliver those fuels, and they’ll be waiting in the wings if the oil markets take a dramatic turn upward. But Zaremba doesn’t see the markets moving that way anytime soon, as drilling technology has opened up new sources of American oil.
“We have huge domestic crude oil production that we didn’t use to have,” Zaremba said. “South of a nuclear war, we are going to be stable for transportation energy needs for decades to come.”
• The signs you may have noticed at the two Zarco stations in town are ones advertising high-tech car washes coming soon to both the 23rd Street and Iowa Street locations. But those signs have been up for quite awhile, and construction work hasn’t yet started on the tunnel car washes. For a time, an excavator was even on site to presumably begin tearing down the former Sandbar sub sandwich shop near Ninth and Iowa to make way for the 150-foot car wash there. But then it didn’t happen.
Zaremba, though, tells me that the car washes still will happen.
“I had the plans all set once, and then I decided I needed to look at them a little closer,” Zaremba said. “I have to be comfortable with the equipment layout.”
The tunnel car wash industry has turned competitive in Lawrence. Shortly after Zaremba announced he was going to build a tunnel car wash at his 23rd Street store, an out out-of-state company struck a deal to buy vacant ground next to QuikTrip — and just down the block from Zarco — to build a large tunnel car wash. That location is now open.
• While we are talking about gasoline, we might as well talk about one of Lawrence’s favorite subjects: gas prices. We are starting to get into prime driving season, and the latest report gives you reason to worry that filling up the family cruiser won’t be as cheap this summer.
The auto club AAA of Kansas released its latest report detailing fuel prices for a host of Kansas communities. It showed that while prices had started to drop recently, they were still significantly ahead of where they were a year ago. And to the chagrin of many local motorists, it found that Lawrence prices were in a familiar place — right near the top.
Here’s a look at prices across the state and how they compared with the same period a year ago:
— Hays: $2.31, up from $1.98 a year ago
— Lawrence: $2.28, up from $2.02 a year ago
— Garden City: $2.28, up from $2 a year ago
— Kansas City, Kan.: $2.27, up from $2 a year ago
— Topeka: $2.26, up from $1.96 a year ago.
— Wichita: $2.21, up from $2.02 a year ago
— Emporia: $2.20, up from $2.02 a year ago
— Salina: $2.19, up from $1.90 a year ago
— Pittsburg: $2.15, up from $1.88 a year ago
— Manhattan: $2.13, up from $1.98 a year ago
— Kansas average: $2.22, up from $1.99 a year ago
— National average: $2.39, up from $2.21 a year ago.
Of course, in the time it took you to read that list, gasoline prices may have changed a couple of times. They are volatile. But the U.S. Energy Information Administration does put out a forecast. Its latest forecast for the April through September summer driving season predicts nationally that gasoline prices will be about 10 percent higher than they were last year.