Price pains

Despite national averages decreasing, local, state gas still high

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Easing tensions in the Middle East, a relatively light hurricane season and summer travel coming to a close have combined to cause gasoline prices to decrease in Craig and across Colorado -- though not as dramatically as nearby states.

The national average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline has dipped almost 50 cents from last month, according to the AAA of Colorado. Last month, the average national price topped out at about $2.87 per gallon; this month, the national average has dropped to $2.39 per gallon.

Although that may be good news to consumers in neighboring states such as Kansas and Nebraska -- where prices are well below the national average, at $2.19 and $2.28, respectively -- it comes as little reprieve to motorists in the West. The average price in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah ranges between $2.69 and $2.80 per gallon.

The average price in Craig hovers at about $2.79 for unleaded.

"We're still waiting to see when and how low Colorado will go," said Alexa Gromko, a spokeswoman for the AAA of Colorado. "The rest of the nation is responding nicely. Colorado is behind in doing that."

Bryant Gimlin, an energy risk manager for Gray Oil Company in Fort Lupton, said the disparity between Colorado prices and other nearby states exists because the centennial state is coming out of a diesel shortage and has higher costs for shipping.

Gasoline in Colorado generally is shipped from the Gulf Coast, Texas or Oklahoma, he said. States with cheaper prices such as Kansas and Nebraska receive those supplies more quickly than Western states, and the cost for getting gasoline supplies to Colorado, Wyoming and Utah is higher for companies, hence the stiffer prices.

As the diesel supply replenishes itself, prices in Colorado should stabilize, Gimlin said.

"It's taking a while for it to come down, but it sure looks like -- and I think it will be sooner rather than later -- that we'll probably stabilize at that $2.40 or $2.50," he said.

Last month, rising tensions in the Middle East, looming threats of Gulf Coast storms and a foiled terrorism plot in the United Kingdom reverberated in Colorado with record-high gasoline prices.

Prices statewide averaged about $3.076 per gallon, up from the previous record high of $3.074. In Craig, prices at the pump averaged about $3.20 per gallon.

The drop in national gasoline prices can be attributed to cooling tensions in the Middle East, an unusually quiet hurricane season, fears about a slowing economy and the traditional post-Labor Day lag in road travel, Gromko said.

"We didn't have a damaging hurricane season," she said. "Last year, we had Katrina and Rita hindering the Gulf Coast region where oil rigs are. ... There's been a calming of tensions in the Middle East. Everybody is always paying attention to what's happening over there. It affects output and who's importing and exporting. Now that those tensions are cooling, it's no longer as big a factor."

However, Gromko pointed out that despite the recent downturn in prices, consumers should not be lulled into a false sense of security. As the industry has seen numerous times, the climate could change, thereby changing the market overnight.

For more information about local, state, and national fuel prices, visit the AAA Web site, www.aaa.com/fuelgauge.com.

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