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Watching prices jump up and down -- it's a gas

The sign at the Holiday Station on London Road advertises the $3.74 price of gasoline Tuesday. (Bob King /

Being on a limited income, Bob Dorfman of Superior said he monitors gas prices looking for the least-expensive station and always fills up his tank in Duluth, where gas is usually about a nickel cheaper than across the bridge.

So Dorfman said it caught his eye when Monday morning's price at M&H on Michigan Street was $3.59 a gallon, and then later that afternoon went up to $3.74.

"I was just shocked," he said. "I've never seen it go up and down like that on the same day."

The jump is probably because of temporary shutdowns and reductions at refineries throughout the Midwest for planned and unplanned maintenance, said Gene LaDoucer, a spokesman with AAA in Fargo, N.D.

"That's caused a decrease in supplies and an increase in price -- especially for places located at the end of the pipeline" such as Duluth, Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., LaDoucer said.

David Podratz, the refinery manager at Murphy Oil in Superior, said a hurricane bearing down on the southeastern coast of the U.S. also may be affecting prices. That hurricane temporarily closed a refinery in the Virgin Islands, which produces 350,000 barrels of oil a day, about 10 times the amount produced at Murphy Oil, Podratz said.

Gas prices should remain about $3.74 a gallon for the Labor Day weekend, LaDoucer said.

"I anticipate that with the higher prices, more people might decide to stay home or stay closer to home," he said.

Gas in Duluth averaged $3.69 a gallon from July 12 to Aug. 15, according to prices listed at But gas at every station in Duluth was listed at $3.74 a gallon on Tuesday.

The same spike in gas prices has occurred in the Twin Cities, said Jerry Fruin, an applied economics professor at the University of Minnesota.

Fruin said the unrest in Libya and the coming Labor Day weekend probably haven't affected prices.

"You always expect an increase, but it's too far off," Fruin said of Labor Day. And on Libya, "some people expected prices to go down as the Libya situation ends."

Some people filling up at the pumps in Duluth on Tuesday had their own explanations as to why gas prices have been so volatile.

"If the president said we're going to work on wind energy, solar energy and we'd do more drilling, then I think gas prices would go down," said Curt Scherer of Hayward, who spent $100 to fill up his Ford Expedition at the Michigan Street M&H on Tuesday.

Scherer, who used to own a gas station, said he believes more fuel storage capacity is needed to lower prices.

"If we had more capacity, then we could weather the storm," he said. "But right now we're using everything we're producing."