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East vs West: Gas prices higher in western North Dakota

Press Photo by April Baumgarten Dickinson resident Carla Olheiser fills her car up at the West Dakota Oil C-Store on East Villard Street in Dickinson. Gas prices are higher in the western part of the state than in the east, officials said Friday.

A 50-cent difference between western and eastern gas prices has residents in the Oil Patch dishing out more money for fuel.

"We have all this oil here," Dickinson resident Jane Corey said. "Why are the prices higher?"

Of the major cities in North Dakota, Williston had the highest average gas price Friday at $3.82 per gallon, according to Fargo's AAA gas price report. Mandan showed $3.79 on the signs, and Dickinson residents were pumping gas for $3.77.

Fargo had the lowest prices with $3.47. Grand Forks sold fuel for $3.60. Jamestown took third, filling up its residents' cars for $3.64.

The state's average price for gasoline was $3.66 per gallon Friday, the same as the national average, according to the AAA's daily fuel gauge report. The state's average price is 22 cents less than last year at this time.

Smaller towns in the west have climbed toward $4, including Manning, which sported $3.99 at its single station.

One major factor that plays into pricing is supply and demand, Fargo AAA spokesman Gene LaDoucer said. He cited the Tesoro Mandan Refinery as a source for gas to western North Dakota, adding cities in the east have four refineries to draw supply from, including Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co. in Jamestown.

"That's an age-old question that I don't know that there is any answer that's going to satisfy anyone," he said. "There are more gas stations here. There is more competition for sales."

There is usually a 15-cent difference between the east and the west, LaDoucer said. Fewer gas stations serving more people in the west could drive prices up.

South Carolina has the lowest price in the country at $3.30. One reason prices are so low is because it has one of the lowest state taxes for gas at 16.75 cents, said Michael Fields, South Carolina Petroleum Marketers Association executive director in Columbia, S.C. Lower transportation costs and access to four terminals also help, he added.

Hawaii has the highest at $4.54.

North Dakotans pay 23 cents in state taxes and 18 cents in federal taxes, LaDoucer said, adding customers can expect to pay 60 to 65 cents above the wholesale price.

LaDoucer said state officials would know if the gas stations were collaborating to keep prices high, which is illegal. However, the companies will follow suit when one changes its rates.

"That's just the nature of the gasoline retail business," he said. "You have to stay near your competitors so you don't lose customers. It's kind of a game that's played."

It's disturbing that western North Dakota does not have a refinery, Carla Olheiser of Dickinson said while pumping gas at Dickinson's West Dakota Oil C-Store.

"It all comes down to too much government regulation," she said.

Everything seems higher in Dickinson, and everyone has to pay, including Vicki Nogosek, station manager at T-Rex Conoco Inc.

"You hear a lot of people complaining about it, and you get tired of it because they act like we are gouging, but it's not us doing it," she said. "Whenever that gas goes up, they're going to tack it onto us regardless. It's a bad deal."

LaDoucer didn't expect prices to rise over the Memorial Day weekend, but he said they could drop next week. The national trend seems to follow the state trend from east to west, which allowed the spokesman to give a piece of advice for travelers.

"If people are traveling, they will want to travel south or east to find less expensive gasoline," he said. "If they travel west, it is going to be more expensive."