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updated: 9/12/2012 11:23 AM

Gas prices hit $8 in NJ, Pa. in Lukoil protest

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Associated Press

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- More than 50 Lukoil gas stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were jacking up prices to more than $8 a gallon Wednesday to protest what they say are unfair pricing practices by Lukoil North America that they say leave them at a competitive disadvantage.

Sal Risalvato of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association said the protest was aimed at raising consumer awareness about the challenges facing Lukoil dealers and to get Lukoil to respond to dealer grievances.

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He said Lukoil engages in various practices that force franchisees to pay higher prices for their fuel than competitors. It is not uncommon for Lukoil dealers to see a competitor selling gas to the public for considerably less than what they're paying Lukoil for their latest delivery, he said.

"We were all at a breaking point," Risalvato said.

The New York offices of Lukoil North America said a spokesman was not available to respond to questions about the dispute, and a request by email for comment was not immediately returned.

Lukoil is Russia's second-largest oil producer. The first Lukoil-branded service stations in the U.S. opened in 2003 and today the company has more than 500 in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The gas station association said the high prices were meant to get the attention of customers so they know the price pressures Lukoil dealers are facing.

Gas stations taking part in the protest were planning to hand out fliers to customers explaining why they are struggling to keep down prices and to hang banners asking customers to contact Lukoil.

"They essentially sell the very same gasoline to stations in proximity of each other at different prices in order to game the market and compete with other gasoline brands," Risalvato said. "In doing so, the price may differ by as much as 25 cents a gallon, and place one retailer and the retailer's customers at an enormous disadvantage over another station."

But Risalvato said the dealers' complaints go beyond that.

"No matter what the market conditions are on a particular day, Lukoil's prices are higher than just about every retail competitor," he said.

Risalvato said the decision to protest began with New Jersey dealers but station owners in Pennsylvania also said they wanted to join in when they heard about the effort.

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