Gas prices down - for now

Published: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 11:09 p.m.
It's not your imagination: gasoline and diesel fuel prices are slowly inching downward. But don't expect them to continue that direction permanently, or even much past spring.
According to the national Energy Information Administration's (EIA) most recent weekly report, the U.S. average retail price for regular gasoline decreased by 1.3 cents per gallon from the previous week to reach $1.77 per gallon as of Jan. 3. But that was still 26.8 cents higher than this time last year. Diesel fuel continues to average nearly $2 per gallon, about 50 cents more than it cost in January 2004.
In the Gainesville area, the average for regular is $1.919, with reports of prices from $1.89 to $2.12. The average is still 30 cents more than this month last year, but only about 9 cents more than December, according to American Auto Club's Fuel Gauge Report. The EIA, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, lists the Florida average at $1.845 for regular, a steady decline of about a penny or two a week since November, when the average for regular was $1.99.
Gainesville again has higher gasoline prices than several more populated metro areas in Florida. Gasoline prices in the Panhandle were generally lower than the rest of the state, with regular gasoline costing an average $1.775 a gallon in Pensacola, 23 cents more than last January. The St. Petersburg-Tampa-Clearwater area enjoys a $1.79 per gallon average price. According to the Web site www.floridastategas, the lowest price for regular gasoline in the state Tuesday was $1.72 in Fort Walton Beach; the highest was $2.15 in Jupiter.
Some of that price difference between cities may come from the taxes. Robert Bonnetti, administrative support manager for Alachua County Public Works, said that federal, state and local taxes account for about 48 cents of the price of every gallon of gasoline purchased in Alachua County. Of that, 6 cents are local option taxes levied by the county.
Nationally, according to the Department of Energy, the price breakdown for gasoline is 21 percent taxes, 15 percent distribution and marketing, 11 percent refining and 53 percent crude oil.
According to EIA statistics, prices are down throughout most of the country, with the Gulf Coast region seeing the largest decrease. This is because many of the nation's oil refineries are located in the Southwest Texas/Louisiana region.
Retail diesel fuel prices fell 3 cents last week to $1.957 cents per gallon, according to EIA. Again, the Gulf Coast saw the largest decrease of 4.1 cents to $1.887 per gallon. In the Gainesville area, diesel averages $2.187 a gallon; this is 52 cents more than January 2004.
Part of the easing of late 2004 prices is due to improved crude oil and gasoline inventories, the EIA said, with U.S. gasoline stockpiles 2.5 percent higher in December than a year ago.
But don't look for gas prices to plummet. The agency predicted the nationwide average for regular unleaded will be in the mid $1.90s this spring.
About 70 percent of the nation's gasoline is sold through convenience stores, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, which keeps track of fuel volatility. The NACS said the seasons affect supply and prices. Because January and February are usually low-demand months for gasoline, many refineries schedule routine maintenance activities during this time, requiring operations to be temporarily shut down. They also begin to refit for the summer-blend fuels, which are more difficult and environmentally stringent to produce than the heating fuel blends of winter, according to the NACS. This is why fuel prices - gasoline and diesel - traditionally rise in the spring.
In the United States, the highest gasoline prices were - no surprise here - in Hawaii, where a gallon of regular unleaded went for $2.68 Tuesday, according to www.gasprice The lowest at $1.53 was in Accident, Md.

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