Drivers in regional areas are being warned they could be paying $1.20 a litre for their fuel this Easter weekend – around ten cents dearer on average than what’s being charged in the city.

The Motor Trades Association says the price of crude oil is probably going to jump to about US$56 a barrel, and we country folk need to fill up our tanks now if we see a good deal. But even as the warm glow of concern from the association washes over us, a little voice inside our heads wonders if we’re being softened up for a really big hit.

Because the majority of country drivers, it must be said, view petrol pricing as one of the mysteries of the universe.

The answer depends on who you talk to. Fair Trading NSW will tell you “market forces” are responsible for the setting of the price. The ACCC says it’s the exchange rate and price of crude oil which determines country pricing. And petrol companies like Shell say it’s “higher costs and a different competitive environment” which make the difference. Whatever that means.

No-one mentioned the fuel excise or tax.But it seems to make up a fair whack of the final cost.

Yes: I’ve crunched the numbers. And I now present to you an Easter feast of petrol pricing in regional New South Wales.(Disclaimer: maths was not my strong point in high school).

According to Shell, if the average Sydney petrol price of 109.8, the refinery charge is 52.1 cents of that, with tax taking 48.1 cents. That leaves a profit margin of 9.6. That tax would presumably be made up of the GST and the fuel excise.

Applying this formula to country prices, I have come up with the following:

In Northern NSW, petrol this morning is costing: Grafton 99.9; Casino 95.9; Bogabilla (north of Moree and close to the Queensland border) 98.9; Moree 99.9. On that breakdown of pricing there’s no retail margin – they’re all losing money.

In Southern NSW, petrol in Albury is 106.9; Goulburn 102.9; Braidwood 118.9.

Western NSW: Coonabarrabran 110.9; Bathurst 109.9; Oberon 118.9; Bourke 110.9.

Both these groups make a profit. After tax and refinery costs, these service stations would get a final retail profit of between 2.7 (Goulburn) and 18.7 cents a litre (Braidwood). Presumably this is where transport costs and competitive pressures have to be taken into account.

Well, I hope this makes sense to you. I’m more confused than ever. (I told you maths wasn’t my strong point).