The most expensive gasoline in the Washingtgton area -- 119.9 cents a gallon for premium -- is sold at an Amoco station near Meridian Hill Park in Northwest Washington by a man who says he ignores government price controls.
The least expensive gasoline in the Washington area -- 78.9 for regular -- is sold at a BP station in Arlington at the intersection of Glebe Road and Washington Boulevard.
BP's district manager is trying not to advertise the stations's low prices because the station pumps out its daily allotment by 11 a.m.
A study of about 300 of the 1,500 service stations in the metropolitan area shows no station with higher prices than Sidney Drazin's Amoco at 14th and Euclid streets NW and no station with lower prices than the BP station at 4601 Washington Blvd. and tabulated over the weekend by the authoritative oil-industry newsletter. The Lundberg Letter. The survey was conducted for Platt's Oilgram, another industry newsletter that focuses on prices.
During an interview at his station yesterday, Drazin clamped down on a cigar, looked out from under the brim of his blue Amoco baseball cap and said that he is just "making a living" by marking up his prices more than 30 cents a gallon over what he pays.
Since he sells only about 14,000 gallons a month at the two-island station an additional penny at the pump brings in only $140.
"No one is gouging anyone," said Drazin, as he explained how he figures his prices.
About a year ago, Drazin said he sat down and figured out all of his operating costs at the station: his penny-per-gallon rent to Amoco, his lone, full-time employe, his light bill, insurance, workers' compensation and his own take-home pay of $200 a week.
Then, he said, he adjusted his prices accordingly.
Now, when his costs increase, he raises prices to meet them, he said.
Drazin said he always has marked up his prices 21 or 22 cents over what he pays. His most current invoice from Amoco, dated last Thursday, showed that Drazin is making 31.7 cents a gallon on regular, 33.7 cents a gallon on unleaded and 31.8 cents a gallon on premium.
The difference between his stated mark-up of 21 cents a gallon and his actual mark up of 21 cents a gallon and his actual mark up of more than 30 cents works out to about $1,500 month.
Drazin acknowledge that he is making more money since gasoline supplies have tightened, though he would not be specific. "It works out better now than it did before," he said.
Drazin keeps no books at the station. He has no idea, he said, what the station's prices were on May 15, 1973, the date from which gasoline dealers must calculate their maximum lawful selling prices today, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
"I bought the station in March 1976. How would I know what the prices were in 1973?" Drazin asked. "The guy who owned the station before me took his books with him."
A spokesman for the U.S. Energy Department said yesterday that Drazin probably has been violating the federal pricing rules, which carry a maximum penalty of $10,000 a day for each violation and one year in jail.
"I am not coming down," Drazin said. "The government can take me to court if they want to. A man is entitled to make a living and he shouldn't have to sit there and lose money because the federal [regulations] . . . say he has to."
Beginning August 1, a new energy department rule on pricing goes into effect, setting a maximum of 15.4 cents a gallon in dealer mark up or gross profit. The rule would require Drazin to cut his profits in half.
The rule change will not affect the Arlington BP Station, the least expensive in town.
That station is owned by Bp Oil Company, a subsidary of Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Company-operated stations were exemepted from the new 15.4-cent ceiling price. Such stations will continue to be bound by existing pricing rules, which are based on May 15, 1973, prices plus dollar-for-dollar cost increases from suppliers in subsequent years.
The station is managed by 24 year-old Don West. With 20 hoses attached to half as many pumps, West said he and his young crew effortlessly pump their 100,000-gallon-a-month allocation.
This month, the station may exceed 120,000 gallons because BP has raised its allocation from 80 to 82 prcent of last year's volume.
Monday, West said he pumped 4,150 gallons, his current daily allotment, by 11 a.m.
"You'll notice we don't have a price sign at the station," said BP district manager Don McClenathan. "We do have a low price and we're trying to stay open and serve people as long as we can.
Figuring out how much BP is profiting at the station would be to at the station would be to crack one of the basic mysteries of the oil industry: how much oil companies profit by operating their own stations.
A Cleveland-based spokesman for BP would only say that, overall, BP makes about 3.5 cents net profit on each gallon of gasoline it sells.
"Meanwhile, the latest figures for nationwide gasoline prices showed that average prices last weekend were 6.4 cents higher than average prices in June. The Lundberg-Platt's survey, which will be published on Friday, showed that the average gross profit margins for dealers had increased from 13.7 cents to 14.1 cents. From that margin, dealers pay their expenses. The remainder is net profit.
Since December 1978, average gasoline prices nationwide have gone up more than 26 cents, an increase of 40 percent, the survey shows.
Based on the most current estimate of gasoline dealer profits. The Lundberg Letter estimated that the energy department's new 15.4-cent profit ceiling will cost American consumers more than $1 billion on an annual basis.
The controversial rule change has drawn attacks from several quarters. Small-volume dealers do not like the 15.4-cent profit ceiling becausse it would force too many of them to roll back prices August 1. Those dealers say they need higher profit margins to provide more services and to fend off bankruptcy when oil companies cut back gasoline supplies.
The Federal Trade Commissiion says that setting one profit ceiling for all stations is anticompetitive. Under the new pricing system, it also will be easier for one station owner to determine another owner's wholesale price, heretofore a closely guarded competitive secret.
With or without the rule changes, gasoline prices are expected to continue upward, perhaps more sharply next month as the full impact of the July 1 price increase by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries begins to take effect. CAPTION: Chart, Reflects gasoline prices for full service, self service, all grades nationwide. The Washington Post; Picture, Sidney Drazin's Amoco at 14th and Euclid streets NW has area's highest prices. By Margaret Thomas -- The Washington Post