Heads turn as gas creeps to $3 a gallon

Retirees Lance and Connie Fretwell of the Denver area keep an eye on fuel prices even though they don’t let the increases keep them from traveling.

Yet, they noticed fuel prices have started to creep up across the West when they stopped at a Grand Junction Shell gas station, 723 Horizon Drive, to fuel up Wednesday.

“We look at the signs and stop at the one that’s a few cents cheaper,” Lance Fretwell said while filling up their diesel truck that hauls their fifth-wheel.

On Wednesday, prices around Grand Junction at some fueling stations topped $3 a gallon for premium grades and diesel fuels, the first time the $3 mark has been breached since Nov. 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Average price of a gallon of regular unleaded fuel in Grand Junction for the week ending Wednesday was $2.76, according to the American Automobile Association.

The average for a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.08 during the same time last year, but the current average also is a far cry from the $3.48 a gallon average during mid-April 2008.

If prices seem to be high now, they’re only expected to creep higher as temperatures warm, with prices of a gallon of regular unleaded expected to hover around $3 during the summer season, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Fuel prices tend to increase in the spring as refineries switch out winter blends to summer blends — summer blends cost more to produce because they contain more butane — and prices almost always increase between January and May, the Energy Information Administration said.

Price fluctuations also occur depending on access to supply. Every year the Colorado Office of the Attorney General fields complaints of suspected price gouging by Western Slope fuel stations, as prices in the Denver area are less expensive. Price gouging is not illegal in Colorado, and “any merchant can charge any price for any product in Colorado,” said Jan Zavislan of the office’s consumer protection unit.

The Attorney General’s Office does investigate claims of price fixing, which could be proved if there was evidence that station owners met and agreed to all post their prices high. One such claim was investigated on the Western Slope in 2001, but it was unfounded, Zavislan said.

The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel last week was $2.68 in Denver, 8 cents less than Grand Junction’s average.


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