Are Utahns being overcharged for gasoline? Comparing a list of what customers pay at the pump for gasoline only (minus the taxes) might make you think so.

Utah has the third-highest average regular gasoline price in the nation at $3.79 per gallon — not counting taxes.

Only residents of Alaska ($4.40 a gallon) and Hawaii ($4.16) are paying more than those in the Beehive State for gasoline only. Wyoming also has an average cost of $3.79 a gallon without taxes.

That's based on AAA's latest (July 22) "Daily Fuel Gauge Report" and subtracting each state's total state and federal taxes for a gallon of gasoline, as reported by the American Petroleum Institute.

The U.S. average without taxes is $3.68 a gallon.

And that's not taking into account a true "apples to apples" comparison. Utah's regular gasoline is only 85 octane — presumably less expensive than 87 octane, the standard for regular gasoline in all but the high-elevation Rocky Mountain states.

Take Utah's midgrade (87 octane) gas average in a state-by-state comparison (without taxes) and it remains third highest, but its average cost rises by 21 cents to $4 per gallon.

Utah's gasoline tax is 42.9 cents per gallon, compared to the U.S. average state tax of 49.4 cents.

"That's a historic thing," Rolayne Fairclough, AAA Utah spokeswoman said of Utah's high gasoline prices.

In a similar without-taxes survey by the Deseret News 13 months ago, Utah ranked as the fifth most expensive state.

Currently Utah has the sixth-highest regular gasoline price average in the nation at $4.22 per gallon including taxes, according to AAA — which is, of course, what you pay at the pump. The current U.S. average is $4.06 per gallon.

Six other Western states — California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Nevada and Idaho — are also among the top 10 for the highest prices of gasoline. And, the missing three — Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — aren't far behind.

So, why do the Western states have the highest gasoline costs any way you calculate it?

Fairclough has never looked at the without-taxes comparison, but she isn't surprised to find all the Western states among the highest.

First, she said, "the Intermountain West is an independent market" for oil and lacks some of the intense competition the Eastern markets have. Second, she said, the West must rely on expensive trucking costs for most of its gasoline. Utah and the West lack extensive piping systems or the use of barges and ships that can reduce costs.

"It has to be transported over land," she said.

Also, because Utahns and other residents of Western states tend to travel vast distances, as compared to the East, demand in the West is greater in summer than elsewhere.

"For several months Utah had been substantially below the national average," said Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association. "Right now the pendulum has swung."

But he stressed that over time, the market usually evens out. Utah does seem to have its highest prices in summer when the demand is highest. Yet, the rest of the year the state will usually be lower.

"It's an extremely competitive business," he said. "We urge people to shop around for the best prices."

Peacock said the distances that oil and gasoline have to be trucked for Utah can add to the prices somewhat but may not be as substantial a cost factor as many think it is.

According to the America Petroleum Institute, there are four different, basic components to the price of a gallon of gasoline — 1) the price of crude oil, 2) profit at the refinery level, 3) taxes and 4) retail markup.

• For a list of what each state charges for gasoline and diesel taxes, got to www.api.org. The AAA gasoline ranking can be found at www.aaa.com.

• The AAA Web site, www.aaa.com, identifies which stations in a particular city have the lowest prices.

• Don't fill up at the first station off a freeway exit. Travel farther to find lower prices.

• Do not fill up with gas near an airport, as prices there are almost always higher.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com