- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Demand for gasoline fell nearly 4 percent last month from a year ago — the largest year-over-year drop in a decade — largely because of high pump costs, according to an American Petroleum Institute report released yesterday.

“Motorists apparently found ways to manage fuel use and travel more efficiently in the face of higher September gasoline prices following hurricanes Katrina and Rita striking along the U.S. Gulf Coast,” according to the report.

Washington-area motorists contributed to the decline in demand by consolidating trips, carpooling and trading in their gas-hogging sport utility vehicles for hybrid cars.

All petroleum deliveries — including diesel fuel, heating oil and jet fuel — were down 5 percent compared with a year ago. The Washington trade group measures the amount of product that leaves refineries, storage terminals and pipelines to judge demand.

U.S. gas deliveries fell from 9.015 million barrels per day last month to 8.678 million barrels per day in September 2004, a 3.7 percent drop.

“We may not know the exact percentage consumption went down, but, clearly, consumers reacted and have done something about it by finding ways to use gasoline more efficiently, mainly because of higher prices,” said Ron Planting, an economist at the API.

The 4 percent fall is part of a longer trend. Last year, demand for gas rose 2 percent. During the first half of 2005, it remained stagnant, Mr. Planting said.

High gas prices prompted Beth Smith to trade in her Toyota 4Runner, which averaged about 20 miles per gallon, for a Toyota Prius hybrid, which gets about 45 or 50 miles per gallon, cutting her gas costs in half, she said.

“I love it,” said Ms. Smith, a Largo resident who was filling her tank at a Hillandale Shell station in Silver Spring yesterday. “We’re lucky we got it right off the lot.”

Ms. Smith also consolidates trips in a conscious effort to save money.

“If I need something from the store, I think, ‘Do I really need this tonight, or can I do it this weekend?’” she said.

Valerie Wooldridge got sick of pouring $75 worth of gas into her Dodge Durango and has since tried to carpool.

“I’ve made way more of an effort than ever before to carpool because of traffic and gas prices,” she said.

Her family is thinking of trading in its SUV for a more fuel-friendly Honda Element “absolutely because of gas prices,” Ms. Wooldridge said.

As drivers seek ways to cut back, oil refineries are getting back on stream after damage from the hurricanes that cut production to World War II levels last month.

September’s domestic crude production fell to 3.95 million barrels per day, down 22 percent from September 2004 to its lowest level since 1943, according to the API.

Many of the pipelines and refineries shut down prior to the hurricanes still are being repaired and cannot refine the oil.

“That’s why we saw such a huge decline in September. Two different parts of the Gulf were shut in. It’s unprecedented,” Mr. Planting said.

The average price of gas in the Washington area fell 3 cents yesterday to $2.80. In Washington, the average cost fell 4 cents to $2.91, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Now that gas prices are starting to fall, some drivers say they will continue to conserve anyway.

“It’s always going to be back here,” said Angel Arroyo, a Hillandale resident, pointing to the back of his head. He tried to drive less when gas prices hovered above $3.

“We avoided some trips and tried to consolidate, not going to three different areas [at once]” Mr. Arroyo said.

He also called his car dealership to ensure his car was kept in top shape to improve fuel efficiency.

Residents turned to riding the Metro, too. Ridership last month climbed 8 percent to 17.2 million trips from 15.9 million trips a year ago.

Metro attributes the increase partially to high gas prices.

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