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C-stores Seek Distance From BP Oil Spill

NEW YORK -- As U.S. consumers vent their frustration over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by launching demonstrations and speaking out online, some retailers are evaluating their gas brand choice, according to published reports.

Several U.S. groups, including consumer watchdog Public Citizen and Vermont-based Democracy for America, have called for a BP boycott. And social networking sites are becoming a place where consumers can speak out against the situation or join groups advocating for boycotts and other causes, the report stated.

"People are posting their anger and frustration on their own personal newsfeeds," Karen North, director of the Annenberg Online Communities program at the University of Southern California, said in the report. "But in terms of people coming together as part of a collective effort, if it's there, I haven't seen that much of it. And that might be because people aren't sure what the right bandwagon is to join."

Seize BP, a campaign urging the U.S. government to seize BP's assets and redistribute them to those damaged by the spill, is planning a week of demonstrations in all 50 states at gas stations and BP offices, according to the Reuters report. The campaign is gaining ground on Facebook, where at least five groups with a total of more than 8,000 members were advocating this cause as of Thursday.

A spoof Twitter feed, BPGlobalPR, meanwhile, purports to be the oil company's online persona. The satirical feed has more than 114,000 followers, compared to the official BP_America feed, which had less than 10,000 on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the unrest over the failed cleanup efforts is hitting the convenience store industry. Philipsburg, Pa.-based Snappy's Convenience Stores decided to debrand three of its BP-branded stations in Bald Eagle, Philipsburg and State College, and switch to an unbranded banner, the Altoona Mirror reported.

"We are debranding BP. We will no longer be associated with BP by the end of the month. We are doing this because of the backlash and bad publicity from the handling of BP's catastrophe," Sean Lay, vice president of operations, said in the report. "We don't want to be associated with them any more. We've had enough."

The chain has noticed a slight drop in business at the locations that sell BP products, he said.

"We want people to know we don't own BP. We want to make sure we are politically correct, and that is why we are separating ourselves from BP," Lay added. "We want to focus on the positive things we have done over the past 15 years."

And Snappy's is not the only fuel retailer to feel the heat.

"We are starting to see some impact so far, and a percent of decline or two can have a dramatic impact," Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the independent New Jersey-based Oil Price Information Service, said in the Reuters report. "Unfortunately, it has an impact on what you might say are the victims: the marketers and the dealers that made commitments to fly the BP flag."

He noted that historically, energy boycotts have had minimal impact on the parent companies' revenues.

In other BP news, a group of BP gas station and convenience store owners in Massachusetts are dealing with two blows to their business -- high prices and consumer fallout due to the spill -- and are considering filing a lawsuit, the Patriot-Ledger reported.

Station owner Maurice Succar noticed fewer drivers pulling into his location before the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I've been running the station 15 years. I can't last anymore," Succar said in the report, noting his station pumped half its usual volume last month.

The root of the problem stems from the fuel's price per gallon, according to the report. The retailers are required to sell the company's fuel at prices too high to be competitive, Warren Kirshenbaum, an attorney hired to represent the station owners, told the newspaper.

Fifty to 75 Getty, Lukoil and BP stations have partnered and they have instructed Kirshenbaum to file a lawsuit. The attorney blames BP's local fuel distributor, Green Valley Oil, for setting prices that average 10 cents to 15 cents per gallon higher than what competitors are charging, the report stated.

"I think they're trying to manipulate the market," Kirshenbaum said in the report.

Green Valley, a limited-liability company located in Providence, R.I., reached a deal with BP Products North America Inc. to convert 235 Getty stations in New England into BP stations, with Green Valley paying a commission to stations that sell its fuel. Succar's station, though, has seen its commission payments plummet along with its sales volume, according to the report.

In a letter to Green Valley, Kirshenbaum accused the company and its partners of "price manipulation" and said Green Valley was "protecting its own revenues" by requiring set monthly lease payments based on "pre-contractual volume estimates."

In a May 12 response, Green Valley denied that it had manipulated prices. In the letter, Green Valley attorney Gary W. Smith stressed that gasoline prices are constantly in flux and vary from company to company.

"Contrary to the suggestion in your letter, Green Valley has no incentive to limit the sale of its gasoline at the retail level," Smith wrote in the letter cited by the paper. "As a distributor, Green Valley is in the business of selling gasoline and it has every incentive to sell more gasoline."

In Massachusetts, the price of unleaded regular gas averaged $2.76 per gallon, according to a survey by AAA Southern New England that was cited by the Ledger. Succar's BP station was charging $2.85 for regular last week, while down the street, a competitor was selling a gallon for 11 cents less.

"If they say $2.85 and I put $2.84, I have to pay that other penny from my own pocket," Succar said in the report.

His station usually sells 140,000 to 170,000 gallons of gas a month, but in May, it sold only 78,000 gallons, he told the paper.

Two Green Vally executives, Edward J. Janoski Jr. of Sandwich and Joel A. Despres of Providence, did not return phone calls to the paper. Smith declined to comment as well.

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