- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Washington-area drivers said they are happy gasoline prices have dropped, but are skeptical that they will stay low for long.

“I’ve noticed that some gas stations in D.C. have gas under $3,” said Angela Smith, a D.C. resident living in Northwest. “That means gas prices have gone down a bit, and I’m pleased with that.”

Gas prices have indeed fallen in the past month, down 12 cents since May 29. But prices still hover at $3.01 in the Washington area, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, a price that many commuters say is still too high.

The national average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline also is $3.01, a 20-cent drop since May 29, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“I didn’t even notice that the prices had gone down,” said Jack Werstein, a commuter from Maryland.

“In my opinion, the prices are too high. Anything above $3 is too expensive,” Mr. Werstein said.

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic auto club, said he is disappointed that gas prices haven’t fallen fast enough.

“They are not falling at the same rate as when they went up,” Mr. Anderson said. “Prices are going up like a rocket and falling like a feather.”

After nationwide fuel prices reached a high of $3.22 in late May, U.S. refineries built up their supplies and crude oil imports became steadier, Mr. Anderson said.

“As a result, local prices have fallen by about a penny a day and we hope this is a trend that will continue over the summer,” he said.

But Doug MacIntyre, a senior oil market analyst at the Energy Information Administration, is predicting that prices could rise again in August.

“Demand for gas surges in August as people try to squeeze in one last vacation before school starts up again,” he said.

But, more important, there are a number of threats looming for the U.S. petroleum industry.

Union leaders in Nigeria are pushing a general strike in Nigeria today that could cut the output of the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter.

“The length of the strike will make a difference,” Mr. MacIntyre said. “A lot of times these strikes only last a few days and don’t have a big impact on oil prices.”

The strike is expected to begin as planned after union leaders rejected a government offer yesterday.

“In addition, the likelihood for storms and hurricanes is higher in August,” Mr. MacIntyre said.

U.S. drivers still remember the record prices set in the fall of 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita crippled refineries along the Gulf Coast.

Although 2006 was a light hurricane season, scientists from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration are predicting a strong hurricane season this year with the possibility of three to five major hurricanes hitting the Atlantic Coast.

In light of such dour predictions, Mr. MacIntyre said he doesn’t think area drivers will see a dramatic decline in the near future.

“It’s likely that gas prices will stay somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 for the rest of the summer,” he said. “We’re not looking for a significant drop.”

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