Local gas prices above state average
November 16, 2014
Editor's note: "Bringing It Home" runs weekends in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.
Drivers around the country are rejoicing over the lowest prices at the gas pumps in four years as the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded fell to $2.91 and the Colorado average dipped to $2.99 on Friday.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, it's a mixed bag — prices at the pumps are falling, but they remain higher and sometimes significantly higher than the state and national averages once commuters venture south of Glenwood Springs.
GasBuddy.com makes it easy to compare prices between stations. Consumers, who must register at the website, provide updates with surprising frequency. In the Roaring Fork Valley, volunteers provide gas prices from Glenwood Springs to Old Snowmass. No one reports prices in Aspen and Snowmass Village, where prices climb significantly higher than average.
In Basalt and El Jebel, prices at four stations hovered around $3.56 and $3.57, with the notable exception of the Willits General Store Conoco, which was at $3.78 per gallon, according to
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In Carbondale, prices ranged from $3.42 to $3.45.
In Glenwood Springs, the Sinclair station operated by Bradley Petroleum on Grand Avenue dropped its price to $3.02 per gallon of regular unleaded on Nov. 9. All the pumps were full Wednesday, and a handful of vehicles waited their turn to get the least expensive gas in the valley.
"There's been a lot of reaction," said station manager Will Gressett. "They just like the fact that it's low. They want to know if it's going to stay that way."
He said he doesn't know if it will. His company's headquarters in Denver directs his price changes. Prices elsewhere in Glenwood ranged from $3.04 to $3.27.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, said price declines in the Rockies tend to lag behind those in many other parts of the country, so more of a dip may still be coming in Colorado. One of the lowest prices in the state is $2.61 per gallon in Grand Junction, the website reported.
"It's tougher to pinpoint (price movement) for a rural area like (the Roaring Fork Valley)," DeHaan said. He expects prices to hold steady in the Roaring Fork Valley for at least a month or two.
Good old supply-and-demand principles hurt drivers in rural areas, DeHaan said. In metro areas with more competition, stations will lower gas prices to lure customers who will purchase sodas and snacks. They have an incentive to lower their prices to match the competition.
"Stations just don't have to drop their prices that much" in rural areas, he said. "What's the incentive? Just because a guy is making a ruckus? No."
A ruckus doesn't influence the prices in Aspen. The Conoco station on Main Street charged $4.39 per gallon of regular unleaded Friday. The Shell station at the Locals' Corner charged $4.52 — more than $1.50 above the state average. The Conoco station at the Aspen Business Center charged $4.19.
But station operators might not be to blame for higher prices in the Roaring Fork Valley. DeHaan said that some stations where the population isn't as large might not move through their gas inventory for 10 to 15 days. The price at the pump will reflect what they paid for that load of gas. Therefore, a decrease might not be reflected until after a new load of gas is delivered.
In addition, he said, the stations operating under a specific brand, like Conoco or Phillips 66, don't have a lot of leeway in the prices they charge. They get their gas from that brand's supplier. Stations that aren't branded can shop for gas among a handful of suppliers, so they might be able to find better deals.
"The margin of what stations are making in (the Roaring Fork Valley) is all over the map," DeHaan said.
Bryan Thomas commutes from south of Glenwood Springs to Basalt for work five days a week, so the miles add up. He is well aware that the Sinclair station on Grand Avenue is charging less than other stations, especially those in the midvalley.
"I will specifically get gas in Glenwood rather than anywhere else in the valley," Thomas said. His car holds 12 gallons of fuel. If he saves 25 cents per gallon, he saves $3 per tank and probably about $144 per year.
Snowmass resident Bob Guion said he and his wife don't commute, but they still pay close attention to prices at the pump. They make sure they fill up when they drive to Glenwood Springs for shopping or services.
"We drive downvalley to save money," he said. "You time it so you get gas when you're there."
He said he noticed recently that the Willits General Store was charging $3.79 per gallon. They bought gas that same day for $3.17 in a vehicle that holds 20 gallons. That savings of 62 cents per gallon kept $12.40 in his pocket.
AAA Colorado spokeswoman Wave Dreher is optimistic that Roaring Fork Valley drivers will see lower prices this winter. Crude oil prices have dropped to $77.75 per barrel from $107 in June, she noted. AAA's research shows that roughly 73 percent of the price of a gallon of gas is determined by crude-oil prices and another 10 percent comes from refining charges, 11 percent comes from taxes and 6 percent comes from distribution and marketing.
Commuters in the Glenwood Springs area are much better off than they were a year ago, Dreher said. The average price of gas was $3.67 in Glenwood one year ago compared with $3.21 this week, she said. AAA Colorado is forecasting that prices will continue to drop through the end of the year.