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ND gas prices rising rapidly; AAA says no relief in sight until after Memorial Day

Jeff Mattson of Arlington, Wash., fills up his van Thursday afternoon at the Cenex station on Museum Drive in Dickinson. Regular unleaded was selling for $3.99 per gallon at the station while across the street, Holiday was still holding out at $3.84.

The T-Rex Conoco station in Dickinson may have lucked out when the digital sign it uses to advertise gas prices went out recently.

Although customers still had to pay the $3.99 for a gallon of regular unleaded gas Thursday, at least they didn't have to see what they were paying in big red numbers.

"Nobody's very happy about gas prices lately," said Todd Anderson, who works in the shop at the station. "But there's not much you can do about it. It's just the way it is right now."

In recent days, gas prices have skyrocketed by as much as 30 cents per gallon or more in areas of western North Dakota. Most service stations in Dickinson were selling gas for $3.99, with a couple still holding out at $3.84.

With prices nearing all-time highs, motorists can expect continued fuel spikes, according to motorist club AAA.

"Gas prices are expected to rise for the next several days," said Gene LaDoucer of AAA North Dakota. "Some, if not all, of the metro and state records for regular unleaded gas are expected to fall."

Gas was selling for more than $4 per gallon in Bismarck and Mandan as of Thursday, coming close to the all-time high of $4.08 for a gallon of regular unleaded, a milestone that was reached during the summer of 2008, according to AAA numbers.

In Dickinson, prices were up more than 15 cents per gallon since last week and nearly 25 cents since last month. In recent months, prices had dipped to as low as $3.29 at some Dickinson stations.

The average for regular unleaded was around $3.80 in Fargo as of Thursday, where increases of 30 cents per gallon were seen at some stations Wednesday, LaDoucer said.

"Gas prices across the Midwest have moved sharply higher over the past couple of weeks due to supply concerns," LaDoucer said. "Several large refineries in Illinois, Indiana and Oklahoma are undergoing major upgrade projects. That, combined with a fire at a Minnesota refinery earlier this month, has led to the increase."

In the Minneapolis area, Minnesotans were paying as much as $4.25 or more at some stations this week, shattering all-time high gas prices there.

Ramona Kovash of Manning said she usually doesn't pay attention to how gas prices fluctuate because she pays for her family's fuel through her Cenex account. She added that she has noticed the latest spike.

"You definitely notice the difference when the bill comes," Kovash said. "We're going to be paying $600 or $700 per month just for gas. You like to see when prices go down, but it seems to go the other way more often. It is frustrating when you look at what we pay for gas out here and how much cheaper it is in places like Fargo."

Another factor that often leads to higher prices this time of year is refineries making changes to supply for "summer blend" fuels in advance of the summer driving and vacation season. LaDoucer said prices are expected to fall, but probably not until next month.

"This should only be temporary," he said. "But any significant relief before Memorial Day weekend is unlikely. As the supply issues are worked out, gas prices should drop relatively quickly, but exactly when that will occur is unknown at this time."

Statewide average regular unleaded gas prices were $3.71 in South Dakota on Thursday, according to the tracking website Jay Grosz -- who filled the company vehicle he uses for his job Thursday at the Belfield Cenex station -- said he believes price gouging is occurring.

"I think there are people who are taking advantage of the situation around here," Grosz said. "People need gas, you can't get around it. You go down to Bowman and it's usually 10 or 15 cents cheaper. I was just in Rapid City two weeks ago and gas was $3 per gallon."

Jeff Mattson of Arlington, Wash., who stopped in Dickinson on Thursday to fill up during his trip home from Minnesota, said it's frustrating to pay more, but that he doesn't have a choice.

"It seems like this happens when we get closer to the travel season," Mattson said. "I'm going to have a big credit card bill when I get home, but there's nothing I can do about it -- I have to get home."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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