- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

A Republican senator and an international energy consultant both say they expect rocketing gas prices to continue to climb this spring and summer.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, do not foresee any easing in the price during the warm-weather heavy-driving season.
"We are very likely to face higher gasoline prices going into the spring because our refineries are still putting out heating oil. This is a time when those refineries would ordinarily be building up the reserve for the summer driving season. As a consequence, the prospects for higher gasoline prices look very real," Mr. Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said on John McLaughlin's syndicated "One on One" TV program.
Mr. Yergin, who also appeared on the show, agreed. "People who buy heating oil were quite shocked" by the sharply increased prices they paid this winter, sparked by low inventories of crude oil and heating and diesel stocks. Prices rose 65 percent in the Northeast.
"As we go into the spring and summer, we'll see it in gasoline prices," he said.
The price of crude oil, which was only $10 a barrel a year ago, is now more than $30 a barrel. Many American motorists are paying nearly $1.50 a gallon for regular self-service gasoline today, according to various studies. That's up from about a dollar a gallon a year ago.
The national average last week was $1.41 a gallon, a nickel more than the previous week.
Mr. Murkowski, whose committee held a hearing on the matter last week, doesn't rule out $2-a-gallon gas becoming commonplace by summer. Some motorists are already paying that much.
Yesterday, the Republican senator and Mr. Yergin said the rising petroleum prices are really hitting the airline industry. "If you haven't looked at your ticket lately, there is a $20 surcharge on your airplane ticket because of the increase in the price of fuel," said Mr. Murkowski.
In a statement Saturday, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson expressed concern about the economic impact "these artificially high prices" could have. "High prices lead to inflation, slow economic growth," he said.
Mr. Richardson has been touring the Mideast, trying to convince oil-producing nations to increase production. Some have agreed to do so.
Said Mr. Yergin: "I think that we're getting signals from the key producers that they've gotten the message, that they don't want to see the U.S. economy damaged. And I think by the end of March they're going to come around to putting oil into the market. The question is, will they do it in time?"
Mr. Murkowski doesn't think so. "You just can't get relief from [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] in time to get it and funnel it into the system. It takes about six weeks from an OPEC barrel produced in Saudi Arabia to get to your gas station," he said.
The chairman of the energy committee made it clear he's not proud of having the energy secretary "over in the Mideast with his hand out, almost a tin cup, urging OPEC to produce more oil so that our economy can prosper.
"I think that's a terrible position for the world's leader to be in, to have to be beholden to the Mideast. They hold the energy security of this country right in the palms of their hands. We should produce more oil domestically," said Mr. Murkowski.
He criticized the Clinton-Gore administration on that front. "We've got huge areas in this country, particularly in the Rockies, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, where we have the potential for major oil and gas. Sixty percent of the area of the overthrust, the Rocky Mountains, has been put off limits by this administration for oil and gas, let alone my state of Alaska."

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