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Wendy Reuer, Published December 17 2012

Drivers get break at pump as they fuel up for holiday travel

FARGO – As an early gift to holiday travelers, gas prices here are below $3 a gallon at some stations.

It is the first time prices have dipped that low in more than a year, a break at the pump that comes just before what forecasters say will be the busiest holiday travel season in six years.

On Monday, the average gallon of gas in the Fargo-Moorhead area was $3.06, said AAA spokesman Gene LaDoucer. The U.S. and North Dakota averages are both $3.24 per gallon, according to AAA.

LaDoucer said prices will continue the downward trend but likely bottom out after dropping another 5 cents to 10 cents. The low prices will remain through the end of January, he said.

“I think Fargo’s very close to being at its lowest point,” he said.

The lower gas prices are a break for motorists who have not seen a slowdown in fuel costs all year. In a year in which the national average was $3.28 per gallon on Jan. 1, the federal government estimates the U.S. average for 2012 will be $3.63 per gallon, 10 cents above the record set in 2011.

In North Dakota, Fargo is often the cheapest place to buy gas, LaDoucer said. This year Devils Lake is competing for the title, reporting an average of $2.98 per gallon on Monday.

“We are seeing right now a bit of a fuel price war in Devils Lake,” he said.

Statewide, gas prices were predicted to drop this time of year back in October. Demand for gasoline is significantly lower and winter blends of fuel are cheaper to produce than summer blends, LaDoucer said.

AAA estimates 93.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles between Saturday and Jan. 1, the most since 2006. LaDoucer said this year’s Christmas season will be the second busiest of the decade.

“It’s largely because people feel the economy has improved enough to get out and do some travel. Consumer confidence is better than it was last year,” he said. “And Christmas is one of those holidays where people will do everything they can to get to their destination to spend time with their family.”

The average driver will pay a little less than $2,700 for 744 gallons of gasoline this year, which will be a record, according to data from Oil Prices Information Service.

The low prices probably won’t last. March will likely bring back rising prices as pumps return to the more expensive summer blends and summer travel season nears.

Still, 2013 may see an average of cheaper gas prices overall. Government data shows American gasoline usage peaked in 2007, decreasing due to a slower U.S. economy and more fuel-efficient cars.

Barring unexpected events like hurricanes or a conflict that disrupts oil supplies from the Middle East, OPIS chief oil analyst Tom Kloza said the nationwide price for gas should stay below $4 per gallon in 2013.

The government is predicting $3.43 a gallon for next year, which would be the lowest price since 2010 when gas averaged $2.78 a gallon.

Metro’s cheapest gas

Cheapest gas prices for regular grade gasoline in the Fargo-Moorhead Area as of 5 p.m. Monday:

$2.97 for regular Sam’s Club 4831 13th Ave SW, Fargo

$2.97 Costco, 750 23rd Ave. E and Veterans Blvd., West Fargo

$2.98 Holiday, 4151 45th St. S. and 44th Ave. S., Fargo

$2.99 M & H 510 Main Ave., Moorhead

Source: GasBuddy.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

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