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A gift at the gas pumps

Marie Havenga • Dec 22, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Santa hasn't headed out on his sleigh yet, but there's an early holiday gift for all of us at gas stations nationwide.

Pump prices have dipped to the cheapest national average of the year at $2.36 per gallon.

Locally, we're experiencing even more holiday cheer, with many stations charging around $2 per gallon. That’s about 40 cents less than Christmas Day 2017.

The low prices are leading to more people traveling this holiday season. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), more than one-third of Americans — about 112.5 million people — will travel by car, train or plane. That’s a new record and a 4.4 percent increase over 2017 holiday travel.

AAA estimates 102 million will travel by car and 6.7 million will travel by plane.

Spring Lake Township resident Troy Williams said his family will be part of that crowd on the roads, as they will be heading to Ohio to visit family for the holidays. They would have traveled regardless of gas prices, he said, but prices at the pump are a nice bonus.

“It saves a lot of money on longer trips,” Williams said. “Maybe we can use some of the savings to go out for a nice family dinner or buy some after-Christmas gifts.”

Fruitport Township resident Gabrielle Deters said Friday that she just returned from a road trip to Oklahoma. She filled her navy blue Ford pickup truck with 10.85 gallons Friday afternoon. She paid $23.

“It's really nice,” Deters said of the gas prices. “I haul horses a lot for my business (Determination Equestrian Center). It's nice to have lower prices. I hope it stays this way through the summer when we really haul a lot.”

Michigan residents are paying an average $14 less to fill their tanks than they did during the summer months. In the past 12 weeks, the per-gallon price has plunged 82 cents to a two-year low for this time of year.

Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy.com, said oil was down to about $45 per barrel as of Friday afternoon.

“That's down another $5 a barrel this week so far,” he said. “There are a lot of concerns that demand is slowing. This is economics 101. The (stock market) is sagging and concerns abound about a slowdown in the U.S. economy. There's a lot of doom and gloom out there, and that's affecting the price of oil. Demand is weak and production is strong.”

DeHaan said it's difficult to predict how long the low prices will stick around, but he suspects it will be for some time.

“Unless something dramatically changes, it's hard to know when things will reverse,” he said. “I think we need a good dose of positive economic news to see oil prices go back up. Until then, we will continue to see gas prices that flirt with $2 a gallon.”

DeHaan said prices in the Midwest are particularly low. The Michigan average Friday afternoon was $2.16 per gallon.

“There are a lot of sub-$2 prices in various parts of the state,” he said. 

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