Price of gas now a bit less painful

  • Sat Dec 17th, 2011 8:51pm
  • News

By Bill Sheets Herald Writer

Drivers throughout the nation, and especially on the West Coast, have received a nice gift for the holidays: falling gas prices.

“It’s about time,” said Roger Wright of Everett, as he filled up at the Chevron station at the corner of 148th Street SW and Highway 99 near Lynnwood on Friday.

The average price for gasoline in the Seattle area Friday was about $3.50 per gallon, down nearly 9 cents from Dec. 5, according to GasBuddy.com, which tracks prices nationwide.

Friday’s price was roughly 25 cents per gallon lower than a month ago, according to analysts for the website. Prices have fallen at a similar rate in California, said Patrick DeHaan, a Chicago-based analyst for GasBuddy.com.

National prices were lower to begin with but haven’t fallen as much. The national average Friday was about $3.25, about 18 cents per gallon lower than a month ago.

Overall, a combination of factors have brought down the prices both of crude oil and gasoline, DeHaan said. Part of it is the seasonal reduction in demand in the winter — people drive less.

The reasons for the sharper drop on the West Coast are a little more complex.

When the supply of any specialty fuel increases in a geographical area, it drives down the prices for that fuel and others as well, DeHaan said. That drop can spread to other parts of the same market, in this case the West Coast.

Supplies for a fuel called CARBOB, a gasoline blended with ethanol to meet strict California emission control specifications, are high, DeHaan said.

Gas prices on the West Coast for a long time have been higher than in most of the rest of the country. Few pipelines, if any, reach across the Rockies to the West Coast, isolating the market and requiring that the oil be brought here by tankers and refined, according to a report by the federal General Accounting Office.

Also, high demand for fuel in California tends to drive up the prices for the rest of the market, the report said.

When prices drop nationwide, on the West Coast “we just have a little more room to fall,” said Dave Overstreet, public affairs director for AAA Washington in Bellevue.

In addition, oil futures — agreements to buy or sell commodities at specific dates in the future at specific prices — are priced in U.S. dollars, Overstreet said. When the dollar strengthens, the effective purchasing power of oil futures decreases, making them less attractive investments and exerting downward pressure on the price, according to Overstreet.

DeHaan said he expects gas prices to drop at least a little bit more.

“I would expect that for the rest of the year it will stay between $3.45 and $3.60 a gallon” in the Seattle area, he said.

Despite the good news, prices are still considerably higher than they were a year ago. As of Friday, they were about 36 cents higher than a year ago in the Seattle area and 29 cents higher nationwide, according to GasBuddy.com analysts.

“What can we do about it, right?” said Cesar Rivas of Renton, gassing up at the Chevron station on Friday.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.