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Mass. gas prices fall, but still top US average

One of the reasons for the drop at the pumps is that refiners are producing a cheaper winter blend of gasoline.

Danny Johnston/Associated Press/File

One of the reasons for the drop at the pumps is that refiners are producing a cheaper winter blend of gasoline.

The numbers at Massachusetts gas pumps have ticked down steadily over the past two months, but don’t count on paying Missouri prices here any time soon.

The weekly average cost of unleaded gasoline in Massachusetts has fallen 34 cents in eight weeks, to just below $3.43 a gallon, according to the AAA of Southern New England weekly survey. Despite the decline, local drivers are still paying 18 cents above the national weekly average, AAA reported, and they have to shell out a lot more than motorists in Missouri — Tuesday’s nearly $2.95 a gallon average there was the lowest in the nation.

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In 10 other states, AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report showed prices hovering around $3 a gallon on Tuesday.

Gasoline costs in Massachusetts have traditionally been well above national averages, and it’s currently among eight states with the highest fuel prices in the United States. That’s mainly because Massachusetts is at the end of the energy pipeline — there are no refineries in the region, and it’s far from areas that do produce and refine petroleum.

The cost of filling up a tank here is also affected by the state’s 21-cent-per-gallon gas tax, and the higher cost of doing business, which wholesalers and retailers build into their prices.

The price drop at the pumps is at least partly seasonal, said Chris G. Christopher Jr., US economist at Lexington forecasting firm IHS Global Insight. In addition to lower demand following the summer driving season, he said, refiners are also producing a cheaper winter blend of gasoline.

“Typically, they do start falling sometime around mid-September through December,” Christopher said.

The cost of crude oil, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the cost of gas, has also declined — falling about $10 a barrel since September, to roughly $86.

The recession in Europe and a slowdown in emerging markets such as China and India are curbing worldwide demand for oil, contributing to the dip in crude prices, Christopher said. Additionally, there have been no major interruptions to supplies.

“That helped just keep things on schedule,” Christopher said. “Overall demand for gasoline or for fuel globally is slowing down a bit.”

So what does all that mean for the direction of prices as the new year approaches? It depends on which analyst is doing the analyzing.

Joe Petrowski, chief executive of Cumberland Farms Gulf Oil Group in Framingham, a major Northeast fuel distributor, said he doesn’t believe prices will continue to drop much longer.

“Prices are probably close to their seasonal low,” Petrowski said. “If I had to guess, I would say prices are going to start moving up.”

In contrast, Rob Lutts,president of Cabot Money Management in Salem, who tracks the energy industry for clients, said he doesn’t expect prices to rebound any time soon.

“We will likely see further weakness in gas prices until we see robust pickup in economic growth,” Lutts said.

Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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