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Published: Wednesday, 11/16/2005

Toledo-area drivers rejoice as gas prices dip below $2 per gallon

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Local motorists rejoiced yesterday as gasoline prices fell below $2 per gallon at an increasing number of Toledo-area stations, more than $1 per gallon less than late-summer prices following Hurricane Katrina.

"Hallelujah!" shouted Betty Smith of Temperance after pulling up to a pump at the BP station at Alexis Road and Lewis Avenue yesterday afternoon.

"It looks a lot better than $2.30, $2.50 whatever it was," John Duff, also of Temperance, said while filling a six-gallon gasoline can at the Shell station across the intersection.

Stations along Alexis were among the first to lower their prices for self-service, unleaded regular into the high $1.90s, along with those near the cluster of truck stops at I-280 and the Ohio Turnpike in Wood County. Other stations in the metropolitan area were primarily in the $2 to $2.10 range yesterday.

While still a record high for this time of year, the current prices look like bargains compared with the $3-plus that Toledoans paid for a gallon of gas after Hurricane Katrina took a substantial amount of Gulf Coast oil production and refining out of service in late August. Another price spike occurred a month later when Hurricane Rita landed near the Texas-Louisiana border, but that caused less damage to the petroleum industry.

Since then, analysts say, a combination of reduced demand and an increase in finished-gasoline imports has brought prices back down to Memorial Day levels.

Michael Braddock, a fifth-year teaching student at Bowling Green State University from Bellevue, Ohio, said the recent gas price roller-coaster has been particularly wild for him to watch. When he started driving in the late 1990s, he noted gasoline often cost under $1 a gallon in the Toledo area.

The lower-price enthusiasm yesterday was tempered, however, by qualms about how gasoline pricing works and anxiety about the future.

Ronald Bowman of Washington Township said he was particularly ticked by oil companies' recent announcements of record profits.

"The gas companies are ripping everyone off - the big man, not the stations. They just charge what they're told to charge," he said. "There's something wrong somewhere, especially when it's over $3 per gallon. And it'll go back there. I'm not sure when, but it'll happen."

"I think it's great that the price is coming down, but what else is going to go up?" said Delvia Bishop of North Toledo, who cited concerns about natural gas costs to heat her home this winter.

Ms. Bishop said she plans to buy a new car in January, but doesn't want to get caught with a gas-guzzler if prices go up again.

"A lot of people are trading in those SUVs because they can't afford it anymore," she said.

Worry that prices may bounce back up again is not unfounded.

While light sweet crude oil for December delivery fell 71 cents a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday to $56.98 - its lowest level since June 30 - markets remained jittery that extended cold weather could drain heating oil stocks and that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may make end-of-year production cuts.

Forecasters are predicting much lower temperatures - and thus higher demand for heating oil - in the coming week.

OPEC had boosted oil production in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita to substitute for lost Gulf Coast output.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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