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Gas costs dip before holiday

November 26, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Local drivers are unexpectedly paying less at the pumps for a gallon of gas heading into a busy traveling holiday weekend, according to AAA.

Gasoline retailers usually raise prices heading into Thanksgiving week in anticipation of high demand, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Myra Wieman said.

Instead, prices have dropped over the last few weeks thanks to a large supply of gasoline, mild weather and the arrival of weapons inspectors in Iraq, Wieman said.

The average price of regular gasoline in Hagerstown was $1.34 on Friday, the latest day for which data was available, Wieman said. That was a 5-cent drop in the average price in the last week.

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At some local gas stations, the price for a gallon of regular has dropped 10 cents per gallon in recent weeks to $1.30.

The timing of the price drop is good because many people will be driving to visit family for the holiday, said Mary King, who was buying premium gasoline at Sheetz on South Potomac Street for $1.43 per gallon. King said it wasn't long ago she was paying $1.54 a gallon.

King, 57, of Chewsville, said she'd prefer that the price stay the same for a while.

Wieman said she can't forecast gas prices because they could rise if the weather turns cold or tensions with Iraq increase and the United States goes to war with its sixth-largest oil supplier.

Iraq supplies the United States with .63 million barrels of crude oil a day, Wieman said. Our nation's largest supplier, Canada, sells the United States 1.8 million barrels a day.

If war does happen, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Mexico are among the countries where officials have said they would step up oil production to sell to the United States, but their prices may go up, Wieman said.

The nation has a large supply of gasoline for this time of year, Wieman said. "The way the U.S. consumes gasoline, that doesn't mean we're safe if we go to war," Wieman said.

Then there's the weather.

Because temperatures have been mild, refineries haven't focused on producing home heating oil and are still pumping plenty of gasoline into the marketplace, Wieman said.

That could change when winter really arrives.

Roger Hill, 47, of Hagerstown, said he's tired of seeing retailers raise and lower gas prices. He'd like to see a cap.

"Set a price and that's it," he said.

The average price in Hagerstown last Friday of $1.34 per gallon was higher than the $1.09 it was a year ago, but lower than on May 8, 2001, when the local average was $1.63, Wieman said.

Gerald Clark, 70, of Hagerstown, said if the price dropped a little more, that would be "all right" with him.

That would be good news for Jim Pryor Jr., too.

Pryor said he buys gas about four times a week to fill up the tanks of three vans used by his business, Junior's Plumbing and Heating.

"I'm tickled that it's coming down," said Pryor, 58, of Hagerstown. "I just look every day. I think it's going to go back up."

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