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California pump prices . . . cheap?

Motorists in 15 other states, most supplied by pipelines from the Gulf Coast, are paying more for gasoline.

September 30, 2008|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

California motorists are getting off relatively easy these days at the gas pump, and if the state's average price of $3.68 a gallon on Monday doesn't sound cheap, try visiting Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois or a dozen others.

Fifteen states greeted the week with higher gas prices than California's, according to the AAA's fuel gauge report, a daily summary of credit card transactions at more than 84,000 filling stations nationwide.

Almost all of the states are in the South and Midwest, where much of the fuel arrives through pipelines originating in the Gulf Coast region. On Monday afternoon, two weeks after the area was struck by Hurricane Ike on the heels of Hurricane Gustav, 48% of the gulf's 1.3 million barrels a day of oil production capacity was still off line, according to the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service.

"Gasoline supplies here are very slim, and a lot of filling stations aren't even opening up," said Kevin Tighe, who runs a medical courier service in Marietta, Ga., outside Atlanta. "When a gasoline tanker gets spotted on its way to a station, people are following it, and the line forms almost immediately. It's utterly ridiculous."

Software writer Earl D. Baugh Jr., who lives in Alpharetta, Ga., another Atlanta suburb, said he spent the last few days trying to find gas.

"On Thursday, we passed 13 stations and none of them had gasoline," Baugh said. "On Friday, we found a station that had gas, but was limiting purchases to $30 and we had to wait in line half an hour. Last night, we filled up with $3.99 gas, but we passed six more stations today that had no fuel."

Relief for those states might not come until Columbus Day, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey.

"Georgia is one of the states that is the most dependent on those pipelines, and if you compare the population in the Southeast now to what it used to be 20 to 25 years ago, you'll see that supplies really haven't kept pace with the growth even when there aren't any problems," Kloza said.

Nationwide, the average pump price continued to drop, following oil lower on declining demand and slow but steady recovery at gulf refineries.

According to the Energy Department's weekly survey of filling stations, the U.S. average cost of a gallon of self-serve gasoline fell 8.6 cents to $3.632 on Monday. The lower Atlantic region was the most expensive in the nation, at $3.78 a gallon, down 4 cents.

In California, which doesn't rely on gulf supplies, the average price dropped 5.5 cents to $3.67 a gallon.

That came as the state's Board of Equalization said that Californians used 3.76 billion gallons of gasoline in the second quarter, down 191 million gallons, or 4.8%, from the year-earlier quarter. It was the ninth quarter in a row in which gas sales posted a year-over-year decline.

In New York futures trading, oil for November delivery fell $10.52, or 9.8%, to close at $96.37 a barrel -- the biggest percentage drop since Nov. 15, 2001; it was the largest dollar decline since Jan. 17, 1991, when the government tapped the Strategic Petroleum Reserve during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Oil prices began falling Monday well before the House of Representatives rejected a $700-billion financial bailout package, based on concern that a worldwide economic slowdown would reduce energy demand. Oil also fell as the dollar gained value compared with the euro.

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ron.white@latimes.com

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