Early Christmas gift: Gas prices drop in the Northland, MidwestWith gas below $3 in parts of Minnesota, a trip to the Twin Cities is about $14 less than it was on Labor Day.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Christmas has come early for Tom Wieczorek of Duluth. With a wife and five kids ages 15 to 21, their four cars get a lot of driving, which means filling up the gas tank is a near-daily occurrence.
But with gas prices dropping significantly in the last week, he said while filling up his tank at the M&H station at 1230 W. Michigan St. in Duluth that he’ll be able to start saving a little bit of money. And where will that money go?
“Christmas presents,” he said. “We might also take a trip to southern Minnesota” they weren’t planning on.
Minnesota drivers are seeing something they haven’t seen in nearly two years: The price of gas in parts of the state has fallen below $3 a gallon.
Gas prices were reported as low as $2.94 a gallon of unleaded regular at several stations across central Minnesota Thursday morning, according to minnesotagasprices.com.
Duluth stations showed prices as low as $3.13 per gallon Thursday morning, with the highest prices in the state — in International Falls, as often is the case — at $3.39.
If your vehicle gets about 20 miles per gallon, the drop in gas prices since September means an extra $14 in your pocket after a 340-mile round-trip from Duluth to the Twin Cities.
For Derek Reinolt of Duluth, the price drop could mean saving $30 to $40 a month, he said, money he’ll also put toward Christmas shopping.
“This is big-time helpful,” he said.
The statewide average Thursday was $3.12 per gallon, down from $3.23 just last week and $3.24 a month ago and one year ago. Drivers are seeing significant relief since late summer, when gas prices were as high as $3.97 across the Northland.
And there doesn’t seem to be any reason gas prices should go up much in the near future, Gail Weinholzer, director of public affairs for AAA Minnesota-Iowa, told the News Tribune.
“There might be a few days where we see prices level off around the Christmas-New Year’s holiday, but it’s not going to be a big tick up,” she said. “We see gas prices continuing to drop into 2013. … I think they’re going to be staying a lot closer to $3 than $4 for the foreseeable future.”
The national average sat at $3.30 early Thursday, the website reported. It’s the lowest gas prices have been since early 2011, and the decline in price from October to November was the biggest drop nationally in three years.
Weinholzer said Minnesota’s gas-price decline is even more dramatic than the national phenomenon because late-summer prices spiked because of pipeline problems in the Chicago area. The average price statewide has dropped 85 cents per gallon in 90 days.
Nationally, oil and gas industry analysts say the steep decline in prices in recent months has been fueled by the annual seasonal decline in miles driven seen each winter combined with a rapid increase in U.S. oil production. U.S. refineries also are running full-bore after summer and fall disruptions because of fires and weather events.
Analysts caution that a drop off the “fiscal cliff” or additional unrest in the Mideast could send gas prices back up.
Cheaper gas actually is helping spur the national economy, driving down wholesale prices in November by 0.8 percent, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. Officials say lower gas prices also may be spurring more jobs.
On Thursday, AAA forecast that 93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for the coming holidays. That’s up 1.6 percent from 2011. Most of those travelers, 90 percent, will drive to their destination, with 84.4 million people on the road over the holidays. That’s up 1.3 percent from last year.
News Tribune staff writer Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.