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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 9, 2001

Gas prices stabilizing

Advertiser Staff and News Services

Gasoline prices around the nation appear to be hitting bottom after nearly six weeks of falling prices at the pump, and prices in Hawai'i appear to have started to retreat somewhat from their February highs.

Dave Shanahan, filling up his van in Davie, Ga., is seeing modest increases of a few pennies per gallon after gasoline prices plunged since Memorial Day.

Bloomberg News Service

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Honolulu is $1.91, down from a high of $1.95 on Feb. 21, according to AAA figures. The average price for mid-grade gas is $2.02; premium is $2.06. All of those prices are down 2 or 3 cents from their highs this year.

Still, that is nearly 40 percent higher than the national average, according to AAA, making Hawai'i the most expensive place in the country to drive.

The Neighbor Islands continue to be even more expensive when it comes to buying gasoline. On June 13, the state's highest price to date was recorded in Wailuku, Maui, where a gallon of regular unleaded gas cost $2.23 on average, according to AAA.

But while gas prices in Hawai'i in recent weeks have started to dip, they are still higher than a year ago when it cost $1.83 for regular unleaded, $1.93 for mid-grade and $1.97 for premium.

On the Mainland, most regions, particularly the Southeast and Midwest, are seeing modest increases of a few pennies a gallon after prices plunged 20 to 40 cents a gallon since Memorial Day.

The exception is in the Northeast, including Washington, where gasoline prices have been slower to decline. Analysts predict that the region will see modest price drops continuing as the peak driving season ends Labor Day weekend.

The longer-term outlook is even better for consumers. Prices for natural gas and heating oil are expected to stay low as summer heat gives way to autumn chill, a welcome relief from last year's high costs.

The national average price of gasoline is $1.38 for a gallon of regular, down from the high of $1.71 in early May. While prices have started creeping up in some states, the average is the lowest since February 2000. Prices are expected to remain steady and then drop further once winter gasoline blends start coming on the market Sept. 15.

"This is certainly good news for drivers and the economy overall," says Jeff Sundstrom, a spokesman for AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association.

Tom Kloza, publisher of the Oil Price Information Service, and other industry watchers point to record production of petroleum products that has brought fuel inventories to levels well above last year. Prices are expected to stay below the highs of last year as long as crude oil prices hold steady. Crude is priced at $27.62 a barrel, compared with $37 a barrel early last fall.

"We're starting to see inventories building up. If they keep tooling along like they have, we should be OK," says Joanne Shore, a senior analyst with the Department of Energy.

In Hawai'i, a state lawsuit against several major oil companies is scheduled for trial in February. It alleges that the companies conspired to keep Hawai'i gasoline prices artificially high.