At least for now, price of gas dips to under $2 per gallon

Prices predicted to stay down through winter.
Sunday, September 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:10 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

With more stability in the Middle East and the summer driving season behind us, gasoline prices have fallen more than 70 cents per gallon in Columbia over the past month.

Many stations in town are now selling regular unleaded gasoline for $1.99 per gallon, down from $2.78 per gallon last month, according to AAA.

That’s a drop of 28 percent.

Gas prices in the state haven’t been that low since Dec. 7, 2005.

The average price for a gallon of gas has dropped around the nation as well. Since Aug. 7 — when the national average for a gallon of gas was $3.04 — there has been a six-week decline to an average of just under $2.50 per gallon, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This is the second-largest constant decline since prices fell from $2.98 per gallon to $2.14 per gallon in the wake of Hurricane Rita.

“Traditionally, Missouri has been in a good position for gas prices, and we are still,” said Larry Archer, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources energy center. “We frequently find ourselves a little less than the regional and national averages.”

Since July, the cost of a barrel of crude oil has dropped from a high of $78 per barrel to just over $60 per barrel at the end of last week. Archer attributed the decline to more stability in the Middle East, such as indications that Iran may be willing to negotiate about the future of

its nuclear program and the ending of the fighting in Lebanon.

Ruby Rippeto, who works as a courier for a bank and fills up her tank every other day, ­estimates she is saving about $100 a month with the lower prices. Because she pays for

her own gas, everything she saves goes straight into her pocket.

Although there is enough oil production to keep up with the demand, Archer said, there isn’t a big enough cushion to prevent prices from shooting back up in the event of a natural disaster or other interruption.

“The supplies are up, but it takes one hurricane, it takes one really incendiary speech from the president of Iran for the market to get nervous again and the crude prices to go up,” Archer said.

On the other hand, experts say there is no reason to think prices won’t stay down throughout the winter. Mike Right, a spokesman for AAA in Missouri, said that as fall and winter approach, the demand for gas falls and refineries start producing more diesel and heating oil. When the refineries start to switch to winter grades, the prices usually don’t rise because they are cheaper to produce than the summer grades.

Archer said that no matter what happens to prices, drivers should keep fuel efficiency in mind.

“When gas is $3 per gallon, everyone is concerned about conservation. When it’s $2, that concern wears off,” Archer said. “We don’t want them to forget.”

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