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By DON SHILLING



Published: Thu, July 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Pulling up his big Ford Expedition to a gas pump is a lot less stressful for Anthony Simmons now that the Mahoning Valley has some of the lowest gas prices in the nation.

The 32-year-old Youngstown man wheeled his sport utility vehicle up to a pump Wednesday at a Shell station on Midlothian Boulevard that was charging $1.19 a gallon.

That's quite a bit lower than the national average for regular unleaded -- $1.41 a gallon.

Although prices at area stations vary, many are just a few pennies higher than stations in Tulsa, Okla., which has the lowest average price in the nation. The Lundberg Survey, which monitors prices for the oil industry, said this week that Tulsa had the lowest price at $1.16 and Honolulu had the highest at $1.91.

What matters most: Simmons didn't care much about what the prices were in Tulsa or Honolulu. What mattered to him is that local prices are much lower than the $1.79 that some area stations were charging this spring.

Simmons remembers what those days did to his wallet. His sport utility vehicle gets only about 12 miles per gallon, and he spends much of the day driving around as a housing inspector for the city of Youngstown. He gets reimbursed 30 cents a mile.

"I couldn't spend money like I wanted. I couldn't pay bills like I wanted. You have to pinch pennies here and pinch pennies there," he said.

Thomas Markovich, 67, of Youngstown, said that earlier this year he canceled three trips that he normally takes with friends to watch NASCAR races in Southern states.

"Prices were high at that time, and I wasn't going to pay it," he said.

While relieved that prices are lower, area drivers who were interviewed still used words such as outrageous and ridiculous to describe prices of $1.19.

Markovich said $1.19 still is a bit high for him so he is going to fly instead of drive to Kansas City in September to watch a race.

Other stations: Some area stations that were checked, such as a BP station in Lordstown, a Sheetz store in Weathersfield Township and a Speedway in Liberty, were charging $1.18.

In Pennsylvania, prices are higher. The Sheetz station in Sharon was charging $1.35, while the BP and Sunoco A-Plus Mini Mart in New Castle were charging $1.33.

A look at other parts of Ohio and other parts of the country show that the Mahoning Valley's prices are low.

The AAA-Ohio Motorists Association said in its weekly survey last Friday that the average price for regular gas in northeast Ohio was $1.32. The survey covers nine counties, including Mahoning and Trumbull.

The average for Ohio was $1.26. The AAA survey showed Missouri having the lowest state average at $1.19.

Lowest in Midwest: Statistics collected by the federal Energy Information Administration show that the Midwest has the lowest prices in the country. Average prices for regular in its survey last week ranged from $1.28 in the Midwest to $1.57 on the West Coast.

Brian Newbacher, an AAA spokesman, said prices have fallen from this spring because demand is down and supply is up. A softer economy has led to demand that was lower than expected, while supplies have increased, partly because of new oil shipments from Iraq.

Price increases also are tied to problems in the distribution system, he said. No new oil refineries have been built for 25 years, so the system is running at capacity. If a problem at a refinery or pipeline causes supplies to fall, prices rise, he said.

shilling@vindy.com




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