Gasoline prices in Pa. ninth highest in nation

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Upbeat holiday news includes the fact that gasoline prices continue falling, with Pennsylvania's average self-serve price per gallon of regular reaching $3.43 Monday.

Gas prices typically decline after the holidays because people drive less in the winter, lowering demand, while winter gasoline is less expensive than summer blends, which are required to reduce air-pollution emissions during hot weather.

But here's the bad news: Pennsylvania's price was the ninth highest in the nation Monday, based on AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

Surrounding states -- save for New York, whose $3.73 price per gallon is the nation's second highest -- have notably and even dramatically lower gas prices, with explanations for the discrepancy hard to come by on Christmas Eve.

Ohio's average of $3.23 per gallon of regular self-serve gasoline is two dimes cheaper than Pennsylvania's average, with West Virginia a nickel cheaper at $3.38 a gallon. The average of $3.31 a gallon in New Jersey and Maryland beats Pennsylvania's price by 12 cents.

Missouri has the nation's lowest price, at $2.96 a gallon. Hawaii claims the nation's highest, $3.97.

Nationally, gas prices, again for self-serve regular, have fallen from $3.83 per gallon in September -- the highest average September price in history -- to a national average Monday of $3.25, which represents a three-month dip of 58 cents.

Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said prices vary for several reasons.

One is different state gas tax rates, which favor Ohio at $46.4 cents a gallon, or 4.3 cents below Pennsylvania's 50.7 cents. But West Virginia's gas tax, 51.8 cents a gallon, is a little more that Pennsylvania's even though its average gallon price is less in the Keystone State.

Gas prices in the Tri-State Area might vary, Mr. Lenard said, because West Virginia and Ohio might be supplied by different pipelines and gasoline refineries and wholesalers.

Yet another factor could be an aggressive gasoline retailer in a region or state that forces its competition to drop prices to compete.

Mr. Lenard, who couldn't pinpoint the reason for the different averages in the Tri-State area, said people keep close track of gas prices and routinely seek the cheapest price.

"There's an emotional cachet to gas prices that does not happen with other prices," he said.

Recent spikes in gas prices in Altoona were linked to production problems at a Philadelphia refinery that had "a slight bit of a post-Sandy effect," Mr. Lenard said. Pittsburgh is in a location that gets gasoline from East Coast suppliers, but also might get some from the Midwest, he said.

As a rule of thumb, he said, a $1 change in the price-per-barrel of crude oil, with a barrel containing 42 gallons, results in a 2.4-cent swing in the price per gallon.

Christmas Day can be a convenience store's busiest day of the year, which clearly is the case with 7-Elevens, and not necessarily because of gas prices, Mr. Lenard said, noting that 80 percent of all gasoline in the United States is sold at convenience stores.

In the early morning hours of Christmas, parents often rush to convenience stores for batteries after they see the scariest of messages on the packaging: "Batteries not included." Others need tape for gift wrapping. In years past, people would flock to convenience stores on Christmas Day for camera film, but those days have passed.

Many people do travel Christmas Day to celebrate the holiday with friends and family and stop at convenience stores along the way. But there's a more hush-hush reason why convenience stores, one of the few places open during the holiday, are so busy.

Some people need a break from the festivities.

"After spending the day with family," Mr. Lenard said, "it's nice to get out, shall I say."

mobilehome - state - Transportation

David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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