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S.L. drivers get relief at pumps

But per-gallon prices top $1.60 for many motorists in S. Utah

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Salt Lake City residents are now enjoying the lower average gasoline prices in the state, according to a new survey by AAA Utah, a fact that may cause some resentment among Utahns living in the southern end of the state who are paying as much as 20 cents per gallon more than those in the capital city.

Salt Lake's average price for a gallon of self-serve, regular unleaded was $1.51 in this week's statewide AAA poll of service stations, only a penny higher than the current national average of $1.50. Utah's average price fell from $1.60 last month to $1.58 this month.

It should be noted that AAA's U.S. average differs from that published by the U.S. Department of Energy this week. The DOE said its survey of 800 service stations nationwide found the national average to be $1.447, down 1.5 cents from last week and about 6 cents lower than the AAA figure.

AAA says its $1.50 U.S. average is 24 cents higher than August 1999 but 8 cents lower than last month.

In Utah, AAA says Moab has the highest gas prices, averaging $1.71 per gallon, followed by St. George — which is new to the Utah survey — at $1.61.

Along the Wasatch Front, Provo's average price was said to be $1.58. Orem, also a new listing, was at $1.56, and Ogden was averaging $1.53.

AAA said gas prices are dropping because the traditional summer driving season is coming to an end and the energy industry "was able to do a better job meeting demand for the various summer-grade, cleaner-burning fuels."

In its monthly report, AAA Utah said oil industry analysts are finding it difficult to forecast the long-term outlook for retail gasoline prices because of the low inventories of crude oil in the United States, which has kept prices very high at $30 to $32 per barrel.

"Major OPEC nations have been signaling for months (that) they favor increased production and per-barrel prices near $25, but they have not been able to sustain a price at this level," said AAA Utah.

According to the DOE, regular unleaded prices nationwide average 23 cents lower than in June but are still up from a year ago.

The Midwest still has the cheapest gas in the nation, averaging $1.35, down 1.8 cents from last week, said the DOE. As usual, Californians continue to pay the highest pump prices, averaging $1.64.

The price for reformulated, cleaner-burning gasoline is averaging $1.52 nationwide, but, again, Californians pay 15 cents more.

E-mail: max@desnews.com