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Hurricane raised gas prices, but with refineries back online prices expected to drop back down

Jennifer McTighe of Hawley, Minn., fills up her tank of gas for $2.39 a gallon Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, at PetroServe in downtown Fargo. She drives her son to school at Fargo Oak Grove every day so worries about prices and how it affects her family's budget. Barry Amundson / Forum News Service

Although the hurricanes have been a long way from North Dakota and the Upper Midwest, its effects are still being felt across the region via the way of gas prices.

Since Hurricane Harvey decimated southern Texas where refineries are abundant, gas prices have climbed about 20 cents in the past few weeks. Hurricane Irma isn't expected to have much of an effect, so AAA spokesman for North Dakota Gene LaDoucer expects gas will drop back down at least 10 cents to 15 cents within the next few weeks. With winter approaching, prices are likely to stay down or drop even lower.

LaDoucer expects that as Texas refineries will become fully operational soon. Also gasoline futures prices were back down again on Friday, Sept. 8.

In Fargo, that will continue to be a boost to family budgets as LaDoucer said the city is consistently in the top 25 for metropolitan areas with the lowest gas prices in the United States.

On Friday, Fargo was ranked No. 25 with Oklahoma City sitting at No. 1.

"You usually have to get down to Kansas and Oklahoma to find lower prices," he said.

So why is Fargo a sweet spot?

"Competition," is the word LaDoucer uses to describe it. "It's a very competitive market" between the stations, he said.

LaDoucer said he believes the increases have peaked with prices stabilizing in the past few days. Super unleaded gas was averaging $2.39 a gallon as of Friday in Fargo, up from $2.15 to $2.19 before Harvey hit Texas, according to the website gasbuddy.com.

In other North Dakota cities, the prices are higher, with Bismarck, Grand Forks and Minot always 10 cents or more above in a state that ranks second in oil production in the U.S.

"The question should not be why are gas prices higher in other communities , but rather why are gas prices so low in Fargo.  Prices in other North Dakota communities tend to be more in line with regional averages, "LaDoucher said.

Bismarck had an average price of $2.52 on Friday, while Grand Forks was in the $2.45 to $2.49 range and Minot from $2.49 to $2.59.

In other regional metro areas, Minneapolis was similar to Fargo with prices ranging Friday from $2.31 to $2.42, while Duluth was at $2.54 to $2.59 and Sioux Falls, S.D., was averaging $2.43.

In rural Minnesota, where gas prices are usually higher than in the metro areas, Jennifer McTighe of Hawley keeps an eye on prices as she drives her son to Oak Grove High School in Fargo for classes.

Hawley, about 20 miles east of Fargo, had an average price of $2.49 on Friday so she was saving about a dime a gallon filling up at PetroServe in downtown Fargo.

"The higher prices can take a toll on us," she said. "The hurricanes concern me."

She said the family has two vehicles so they try to share rides as much as possible to keep the gas budget down.

With gas prices expected to head down, McTighe said that was good news. She remembers the days of $4 a gallon in 2011 and also in 2008. The main reasons for the high prices in 2011 were a rise in demand as the U.S. and global economies recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, combined with unrest in oil producing countries such as Libya.

"I hope we never get to that point again," McTighe said.

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