Gas prices drop below $2 per gallon


PLUNGING OIL PRICES

The Mahoning Valley still has the highest gas prices in the state.

STAFF/WIRE REPORT

HOUSTON — Gasoline prices have fallen below $2 a gallon in some parts of the U.S. as the impact of plunging oil prices and reduced driving are finally taking hold.

In Ohio, the Web site GasBuddy.com, where consumers post prices they spot, said a few stations in the Cincinnati suburbs were now charging $1.99 for regular.

Just one month ago, Ohioans were paying $3.69 a gallon, on average. Last year at this time, the average was about $2.87.

The average price Monday in the Mahoning Valley was $2.59, auto association AAA said. It was the highest average price of any metropolitan area in the state.

The national average for a gallon of regular fell 3 cents overnight to $2.668, according to AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. That’s roughly a dollar less than what was paid just a month ago and 18 cents below year-ago prices.

Only three states — Alaska, California and Hawaii — have average prices for regular grade above $3 a gallon, AAA said.

Gasoline prices have been sliding as oil prices have dropped to the lowest level in more than a year, dipping below $62 a barrel at one point Monday. Oil prices have plunged 57 percent from a record $147.27 on July 11.

The markets are worried about the potential for a severe global economic slowdown that would curb demand for fuel.

As well, gasoline prices typically decline at this time of year after the peak summer driving season, adding to the steep falloff, said oil trader and analyst Stephen Schork. He says the national average for gas could reach $2.25 a gallon in the coming weeks.

“We have to appreciate what extraordinary circumstances we’re now dealing with,” Schork said. “We’ve had a major correction in the price of crude oil, and that correction is having a knockout effect on gasoline prices. This great unraveling that we’re seeing in all commodity prices is exaggerating the seasonality of this market.”

The rise and fall of fuel prices has certainly had an effect on Americans’ driving habits.

From last November through August, Americans drove 78.1 billion fewer miles than they did over the same 10-month period a year earlier, according to data from the Transportation Department released Friday.

Despite the price decline, however, some retailers say gasoline sales are down on weekends by as much as 10 percent from a year ago — a sign that some are driving only when necessary.

“I think the mentality of the consumer is, ‘Yes, it’s nice to have $2.50 gasoline, but I feel much poorer today than I did when it was $4 a gallon,’” said Ben Brockwell, director of data, pricing and information services for the Oil Price Information Service. “I think people are still in a money-saving mode.”

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