- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Gasoline prices in the Washington area have fallen below the national average for the first time in seven months, according to statistics released yesterday by AAA Mid-Atlantic.

A gallon of regular gas in the area now costs an average of $2.46, compared with $2.48 nationwide. Just a week ago, metro-area consumers paid an average of $2.62 while the nationwide average was $2.60.

“It’s so wonderful,” said Lucky Tulenan, a resident of Glenmore, Md., who commutes into the District. Mr. Tulenan couldn’t help but smile as he filled up the tank of his Dodge Caravan at the Citgo Station at 2420 New York Ave. NE, which advertised $2.35 a gallon. “Saving money on gas is very important for me — especially with Christmas coming up.”

High gas prices prompted a drop in auto sales last month, especially sales of sport utility vehicles, automakers reported yesterday. Sales of the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Navigator, Hummer H2 and Toyota Land Cruiser dropped at least 50 percent. Meanwhile, sales of the Toyota Prius hybrid rose 68 percent compared with October 2004.

The last time area gas averages fell below national prices was in March, when a gallon of gas cost $2.03 in the metro area, 1 cent less than the U.S. average of $2.04.

Energy analysts are crediting the continued decline in gasoline prices to the rebuilding efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which destroyed 108 low-producing, offshore oil and natural gas platforms and left 53 oil refineries heavily damaged. The hurricanes also cut off power temporarily to two major pipelines that run up the East Coast.

“We’ve had a double whammy there and a shortfall of production that has really lasted until now,” said Michael Burdette, an oil analyst with the Energy Information Administration. “D.C. has tended to run maybe a dime or so above the U.S. average, but it’s back down to its normal relationship.”

Following Hurricane Katrina, average gas prices in the Washington area peaked at $3.23 the week of Sept. 6, compared with a national average of $3.07.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II attributed the decline in D.C. area prices to a drop in demand caused by a seasonal decline in gasoline consumption as well as conservation.

“While demand traditionally dips in the fall, demand dipped even further this time around as people began to drive less because of the higher price,” Mr. Townsend said. “People in the Washington, D.C., area have shown they have zero tolerance for $3 gasoline.”

In Virginia, the average price is $2.34 a gallon, 10 cents less than in Maryland.

But pump prices in the District remain higher than the national average at $2.61 a gallon.

“I think oil companies all have us in this mental game,” said Bonnie Eastlack, a motivational speaker from New Jersey whose work requires frequent traveling. “To me, they are still extremely high. People say ‘it’s only’ … and I’m like, ‘only?’ What’s the matter with you?”

At the beginning of the year, gasoline cost $1.81 a gallon nationwide, and $1.82 in the Washington area.

Even without the hurricanes, the supply of gasoline would have been relatively low this summer due to the 10 percent increase in demand during the summer travel season, said Mr. Burdette, who described the fall as an important time of oil replenishment.

“We’re in kind of a shoulder season right here,” he said. “However, [the hurricane damage] is not allowing the normal rebuild in gasoline inventories that we would have normally.”

Analysts with the Oil Price Information Service, who provide AAA’s gas price data, estimate that gas prices will fall below $2.25 by Thanksgiving, which is already the case in some areas of the country: Oklahoma had the lowest prices in the country at $2.13 a gallon.

“We might see prices dip down to $2.40, $2.30, something like that,” Mr. Burdette said. “But I wouldn’t expect much. I absolutely do not expect to see $2 a gallon.”

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