Lowest gas prices in years driving many to line up at the pump

With gas the cheapest it's been since 2008 and '09, many drivers say it's worth waiting in line

For Janneth Agudelo, the cars and trucks lining up at gas stations in northern New Jersey bring back memories of Hurricane Sandy, when the power was out, gas was scarce and drivers waited behind dozens and dozens of vehicles to fill their tanks.

"There was a lot of fear, a lot of fights," recalled Agudelo, a probation officer from Passaic. "There were sheriffs and police everywhere."

The setting was similar Friday afternoon at a Costco gas station in Clifton, with cars waiting on line, as they say in New Jersey, behind 20 or so vehicles. But drivers passed the time patiently, fiddling with their smartphones.

The price at the pump? $1.69.

"I'd say this is like Sandy," Agudelo said from the driver's seat of her Mazda 3. "But not as hostile."

The average gas price in New Jersey has tumbled to $2.009, according to GasBuddy.com, a website that tracks fuel prices. And that's not even cheapest state average. That title goes to Missouri — $1.766 a gallon.

A Shamrock gas station in Dallas on recorded the lowest gas price in the nation Saturday — $1.30.

Drivers across the nation are celebrating the lowest gas prices since 2008 and 2009.

"Can this be forever?" one driver posted on Twitter. Emoticons, including heart-shaped eyes, shocked faces, laughing tears and even upraised hands, accompany many tweets.

"You guys. I just filled up for less than $2/gallon. In Oregon. For the first time in about 10 years," tweeted Tori Douglass, who included a photograph of her $21.82 Costco gas receipt. The Oregon City resident drives a Chevy Tracker, a mini-SUV.

"I've just been waiting and waiting and waiting to take a picture of a receipt that was below $2 a gallon," she said in an interview.

She said it's common to talk about the pump prices in her social circles and on Facebook, where people often ask where they can find the cheapest gas.

In Clifton, Marlyann Ortiz heard about the $1.69 price from her sister. The Newark resident had 13 cars in front of her and seven behind. No matter. Ortiz, 18, blasted music behind the closed windows of her Honda Accord. "I've only been waiting for, like, 10 minutes, and I'm into Jay-Z, so it's cool."

What, she was asked, is driving gas prices down?

"It has to do with, like, the war or something," she said.

Not exactly.

The cause of drivers' rejoicing can be tied to a number of factors. Crude oil prices have dropped by more than half since June, a combination of too much supply and weakening demand, said Michael Green, a spokesman for the American Automobile Assn.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has allowed the price to drop, prompting some analysts to say that Saudi Arabia, one of the organization's members, wants to drive out competition and create a better market for Saudi oil.

Different factors drive prices state by state. Oklahoma and Texas boast extremely low prices because they have pipelines and oil-producing infrastructure, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com. Missouri has one of the nation's lowest gas taxes, which explains the bargain prices there.

Gas prices are "close to a bottom," says Tom Kloza, oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, and they probably will increase a little in the spring, as they normally do, based on refinery maintenance costs.

But there's good news for motorists: The Oil Price Information Service predicts that the average price of gas in the United States this year will be between $2.349 and $2.449.

Saturday's national average was $2.076, according to AAA. It was the 114th day in a row that the national average dropped, the longest streak that AAA has ever tracked, Green said.

The low prices are leading to changes in behavior. Online and in person, motorists say they now top off, whereas just a few years ago they pumped in just enough gas to get them where they wanted to go.

"Look, it's on E," said Carlos Guevara at the Clifton gas station, pointing to the dashboard gas gauge in his Nissan Pathfinder. "I waited until now to fill up. It used to cost me $50, $55. Today I'm paying $37." He splurged on premium unleaded, a bargain at $2.11.

There also are benefits for merchants. At a travel center southwest of Albuquerque, manager Vanessa Maria said $1.64 gas wasn't necessarily drawing in more people to the typically busy truck refueling stop on Interstate 40. The state average there is $1.872, the fifth-lowest in the country.

"But people are definitely buying more drinks, more hot dogs," said Maria of the Route 66 Travel Center. "That's where we see more — coffee, hot dogs, Cokes."

In northern New Jersey the low price of gas had a ripple effect on neighboring states, where gas has long been more expensive.

On Saturday, the average price in New Jersey was $2.009, with $2.181 in Delaware and $2.33 in Pennsylvania. That means out-of-state business for a Shell station in New Jersey's Hasbrouck Heights, close to Route 17, which leads to all New York bridges and tunnels.

"We get people from every place now — New York, North and South Carolina," station manager Azhar Mahmood said as he pumped gas into a Toyota 4Runner. "It's so busy. They're all filling, filling, filling."

Mahmood was bundled up, his glasses fogging from the chill. He didn't mind.

"Everybody's happy when they pull in," he said.

samantha.masunaga@latimes.com

Anders, a special correspondent, reported from Clifton and Masunaga from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Nigel Duara contributed from Albuquerque.

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