- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Gas prices in Washington decreased 1 cent overnight yesterday despite trouble on the Alaska pipeline, according to the American Automobile Association. Gas prices in Virginia went up 1 cent, while Maryland gas prices stayed the same.

Prices were also steady nationally, holding at $3.036. That price is 3 cents from the record national average set last September after Hurricane Katrina.

To reach the record, all the market needs is “one more straw to drop,” according to Jon Townsend, spokesman for Triple AAA Mid-Atlantic.

BP Alaska announced Monday it was closing its Prudhoe Bay oil field because of corrosion in feeder pipelines that transport oil into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. The field accounts for about 400,000 barrels of oil a day.

The areas affected most by the closing of the pipeline will be Hawaii and the West Coast, said Mr. Townsend, but the pipeline shutdown could cause the price to rise nationally 3 to 5 cents even in a best-case scenario.

The market was encouraged by the willingness of the president and the Department of Energy to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to recoup lost supply.

From Sunday night to Monday, the price of gas went up 2 cents in Washington and 1 cent across the nation.

Gas prices have not seen a rapid increase since the announcement for several reasons, Mr. Townsend explained. “We haven’t seen [a rapid increase in gas prices] this time because prices were already overheated.”

Supply is sufficient because the summer driving season has peaked and fewer people are traveling, compared with a month ago. Also, the conflict in the Middle East did not escalate over the weekend as many people feared, he said, which would have sent gas prices closer to if not over the record.

Though there has been no gas price shock yet, Mr. Townsend said. “The next few days are of critical importance.”

This summer’s high gasoline prices already had most people cutting back on driving before the shutdown of an Alaska pipeline threatened to push costs even higher.

However, few drivers are making bigger changes, such as carpooling or using mass transit.

Fifty-five percent of drivers said they had reduced their driving because of high gas prices, according to a poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center. About one in five said they had started carpooling or sharing rides more often, while 12 percent said they had begun using mass transit more often.

The poll of 1,048 drivers was conducted June 20 to July 16. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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