By Tom Blakey
What a difference a month makes.
Gasoline prices have plunged more than $1 per gallon since Sept. 16, when consumers were paying an average of $3.69 per gallon for regular, self-serve gas.
As of Monday, the average price was $2.63 per gallon — down $1.06 in one month’s time.
“I’ve never seen gas prices drop so much so quickly,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “It’s unprecedented.”
Mai said the price of gas “typically shoots up like sky rocket and floats down like a feather.”
“This time we’ve really seen the bottom drop out. Pump prices have dropped like a rock,” he said.
To make matters even brighter, Oklahoma has the cheapest gas prices in the nation, according to fuelgaugereport.com — AAA’s gasoline price Web site.
“Oklahoma’s pump prices are the envy of the nation,” Mai said. “The statewide average for regular self-serve is $2.75, which is not only the lowest of all the 50 states, it’s six cents below the price of the state with the second-lowest average —Missouri — currently at $2.81 per gallon.”
Only seven states in the nation have average gas prices below $3 per gallon: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma.
“We’re the absolute cheapest at $2.75,” Mai said.
The nationwide average was $3.21 Monday, and was $3.73 per gallon one month ago.
Mai said the Oklahoma City metro area — including Norman — probably has the cheapest average per gallon gas price in Oklahoma.
“We don’t survey every community, but I suspect we have the cheapest gas in Oklahoma,” he said.
Anna Walker, who commutes to Norman six days a week from Shawnee, said she buys her gas in Norman because it’s 10 to 20 cents cheaper per gallon. “Due to the distance I drive I’m happy gas prices are down,” she said.
Monday afternoon, the cheapest gas prices in Norman was $2.31 at a convenience store.
Craig Parrott, owner of North Porter Superette, said Monday that the previous day, prices had dropped 20 cents per gallon for gas, and 30 cents per gallon for diesel.
“Being in the business, I’d like nothing better than to see prices continue to fall,” Parrott said. “High gas prices don’t help us.”
“When consumers are spending all their money on fuel, it hurts (retailers) up and down the street,” he said.
Parrott said many of his customers who come in and pre-pay for gas have been “pleasantly shocked” when the cost of filling up isn’t as exorbitant as it recently has been.
Parrott said gas prices are still double the cost of what they were a couple of years ago.
“Speculators drove up the oil prices and the government didn’t step in to slow it down. It’s all legal — there’s been no gas shortage,” he said.
Mai said the driving force behind the lower retail gasoline prices is the falling price of crude oil on the futures market.
“Crude has fallen more than 65 dollars per barrel since July,” he said.
In mid-July, the price of crude was $147 per barrel. Monday’s price of crude was $82, Mai said.
“If crude stays where it is or continues to drop, I wouldn’t be surprised to see further declines at the pump,” he said.
AAA suggests there are five primary reasons for the drop in petroleum prices:
• Significant strengthening of the U.S. dollar as Europe’s banking sector deals with its own lending crisis.
• Continued low demand in the U.S. compared to a year ago.
• World economies and financial markets that are all suffering, lowering worldwide demand.
• Improving gasoline inventories in the U.S. in the wake of hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
• The lack of any bad news here or abroad that might be perceived as a threat to oil or gasoline production or distribution.
“The trick now is to keep an eye on what crude is doing on the futures market,” Mai said. “As long as crude oil stays below $82 per barrel, I would expect gasoline prices to continue to fall. Unless something happens to threaten supply, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the national average drop another 20 to 30 cents by Thanksgiving.”
Tom Blakey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org