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Gulf Oil Spill Not Affecting Consumers' Gas Brand Choice

LOS ANGELES -- Motorists continue to fill up their gas tanks at BP's environmentally friendly Helios gas station here, even as the company's crude oil continues to flow into the water in the Gulf of Mexico. And at BP stations across the country, consumers are shopping the locations with no apparent sign of a consumer backlash at the pump, a reversal from the boycott triggered by the Exxon Valdez spill 21 years ago, The Associated Press reported.

"It's really bad, but they're taking responsibility," cab driver Edwin Cueva, 53, told the AP as he filled his tank at a downtown Chicago BP station. "Accidents do happen."

Gassing up in Erlanger, Ky., 40-year-old Lee Pullins of Springfield, Ohio, said the spill is "absolutely horrible" but will not affect where he buys fuel. "I go where it's the least expensive, even if it's only two pennies cheaper."

Price was also a factor for college student Stephanie Purnell, 20. "I am worried about the spill, and I think they should have done more to prevent it and find a way to fix it faster," she told the AP as she bought gas in Crescent Springs, Ky. "If I didn't have to go for the cheapest price, I might not have come back to BP."

Construction worker Bob O'Brien, gassing up a big pickup in South Philadelphia, told the AP it didn't make sense to boycott.

"It doesn't make sense to boycott one company because this spill could have happened with any of the other ones," he said.

At the same station, retiree Carmen Espinosa, 68, doubted the effectiveness of a potential boycott. "It's a negative way to think, but there'd never be a boycott big enough for it to make any impact," she told the AP. "People need gas, they'll go to wherever is cheap or convenient, not burn more gas by driving around looking for another place to go."

Across the country, BP store owners told the AP it's been business as usual since the spill began April 20, when an explosion on a rig off Louisiana caused 200,000 gallons of crude a day to be spilled into the Gulf.

"I haven't noticed anything yet," Jeff Dolch, a BP station owner in Baltimore, told the AP. "But if [the spill] hits hard and the news starts showing pictures of animals, at that point it may start to happen."

Pavin Chittiwuttinon, a 7-Eleven franchisee who sells BP-branded gas in an upscale south Baltimore neighborhood, told the AP he hasn't heard anything from customers regarding the spill.

"That surprises me, with the demographic we're in -- more educated, more well-off people," he said. "It hasn't been brought up at all."

One reason why motorists are more interested in price and convenience than in buzz about a boycott is because the current spill has not impacted the Gulf coast in the same way Alaskan shores were in 1989 when the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled nearly 11 million gallons, the AP reported.

"This concept, whether it will end up to be of significant size or not, is now being formed in consumers' minds," said Trilby Lundberg, publisher of the petroleum marketing monitor Lundberg Survey.

The Exxon Valdez spill triggered protest rallies, and consumers returned some 10,000 of Exxon's 7 million credit cards to the company, according to the report. But it took 40 days for a one-day national boycott of Exxon stations to form, but was not impactful because Exxon owned a small number of Exxon-branded locations.

"The boycott concept at that time took a while to kick in and was fanned passionately by some radio folks including regular deejays around the country," Lundberg told the AP. "It did not catch fire and become a nationwide attack on Exxon sales," Lundberg added. "It was to a degree hurtful for some retailers and a little bit hurtful for all, but it was more hurtful in the psyche of the business from explorationists down to the franchisees. They truly seemed to be in mourning."

Exxon said at the time it had no reports of a loss of volume of gasoline sales due to either the boycott or the campaign against its credit card.

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