Hurricane Sandy has taken away New Jersey’s claim to some of the comparatively cheapest gasoline in the country.

Regular gas in Atlantic and Cape May counties reached $3.56 on Sunday, with the state average at $3.64, AAA says.

At first glance, prices have dropped about 23 cents per gallon in South Jersey in the past month.

Yet, they would have dropped more without Sandy, said Tracy Noble, spokeswoman for AAA in New Jersey.

This has led to a unique scenario in a Garden State, whose gasoline attracts out-of-state petroleum price hunters —gasoline here is now costlier than the national average of $3.44.

“It’s not something that usually happens,” Noble said. “It’s entirely hurricane related.”

By Sunday, the state had the 10th most expensive regular gas in the lower 48 states, even above neighboring Pennsylvania.

In South Jersey, the effects of gasoline supplies are less obvious than in northern New Jersey, where 12 counties still have rationing restrictions in place based on license plate numbers.

But the impacts on prices are felt in the region.

Nationally, prices are the same as they were a year ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. But in Atlantic and Cape May counties, they are 28 cents per gallon more.

“New Jersey is operating at about 65 percent of its gas stations, so once power is restored to areas and the fuel stations come back online, we expect things to return to some state of normalcy,” Noble said. “And we hope once that happens, prices will trend with the national average.”

Hurricane Sandy’s impacts, which were exacerbated by last week’s snowstorm, have led to disruptions of the distribution channels that deliver gasoline to retailers and then to customers, said Rayola Dougher, senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based, trade group.

“The primary problem has all along been the electricity. The stations that did have electricity had a run on their supplies,” Dougher said.

“It’s a very complicated system that normally works beautifully if you think about it. Each and every day, Americans are buying millions of gallons a day with no problem at all,” she said.

Bloomberg News on Friday reported two North Jersey refineries with a capacity of 308,000 barrels a day remained closed, as had seven fuel distribution terminals around New York Harbor. This had led to a rise in gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The third-lowest state tax on regular gasoline has helped keep New Jersey gasoline relatively less expensive.

Including federal tax, New Jersey gasoline is taxed at 32.9 cents a gallon, compared to the national average of 49.3 cents, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

AAA’s Noble said the residual effects of the storm are making it difficult to project where gasoline prices in New Jersey will head in the next few weeks.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a heavily traveled time of year — last year AAA forecast nearly 43 million Americans would drive at least 50 miles during the holiday period.

“We were projecting (prices) to stay on a steady decline into the Thanksgiving holiday and further on into the year,” Noble said. “Right now we can’t be certain what’s going to happen.”

Contact Brian Ianieri:

609-272-7253

 

Price for a gallon of regular gas

Location    Sunday    One month ago    One year ago

Atlantic-Cape    $3.56    $3.79    $3.28    

New Jersey    $3.64    $3.78    $3.31

National    $3.44    $3.8    $3.44

Source: AAA Daily Fuel Gauge report