Grand Strand gas prices are on a roller coaster

A new survey confirms what many Myrtle Beach drivers have long suspected. The Grand Strand has some of the most volatile gas prices on the East Coast.

The survey by the price tracking website shows that so far this year Myrtle Beach has led the region with price spikes of up to 11 cents per day.

But the survey also found that there were 87 days when gas prices went down by a penny or more and only 47 days when they went up by at least that amount.

"So at least if Myrtle Beach does lead the East Coast in seeing the largest jumps, prices do tend to come back down," said petroleum analyst Peter DeHaan.

Tyler Kellogg of Myrtle Beach wonders why Grand Strand gas prices seem to go up so much one day and then down so much the next, but he figures it probably has to do with the millions of tourists who visit the area.

"Nobody's going to drive all the way down here and then not drive around because of gas prices, so pretty much gas companies and gas stations can raise them to almost as much as they want," Kellogg said.

DeHaan says Kellogg is on the right track.

"Gas stations know that travelers will come and fill up regardless, so they don't have to be quite as competitive as, say, cities down the road from Myrtle Beach that don't see as much traffic," DeHaan said.

DeHaan says the dramatic price swings seem to indicate a "follow the leader" behavior among Grand Strand gas stations.

"You could call it basically a trend setting pattern, where one station raises prices and other stations simply follow higher. They don't try to compete by raising to a lesser degree, they may try and match the increase."

Nationwide, DeHaan says price volatility is due in large part to most oil refineries working at more than 90 percent capacity.

There's little margin of error, he says, so a breakdown at one refinery can cause a big spike in prices.

Though Myrtle Beach leads the East Coast in price swings, other regions are even more up-and-down. The survey shows Ft. Wayne, Indiana and several cities in Ohio often saw price spikes of 30 cents or more in one day.