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“I don’t think people really understand the expense of running a station,” he said, adding that costs run upwards of $17,000 monthly.

Adding to the costs has been the recent requirement to upgrade pumps to capture additional fuel emissions, which Boyd said could run as much as $70,000 per station.

Consumer advocates say that independent dealers still play a key role in providing at least a bit of competitive pressure in the retail market.

“Right now, the independents are dying like canaries in a coal mine, and we are moving to a monopoly gas infrastructure,” said Langley of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network.

Speculators are a rising force in gasoline markets, buying and selling gasoline based upon their guesses about where prices are headed, but these buyers don’t use the fuel themselves. At least in the short term, speculators can amount to an additional source of demand, driving up prices.

“Over the last five or six years, the analysts we talk with say there are a lot more speculators, or traders, in the market, including hedge funds and other entities that trade gasoline,” said Jeff Spring, a spokesman for the Auto Club of Southern California.

He noted that speculators sometimes churn the market to the point that there’s ten times as much buying and selling as there would be if gasoline simply moved from refiners to retailers.

Last summer, Spring said, many speculators abandoned gasoline for other investment bets. Now, he said, “They are slowly creeping back into the market.”

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