Gas Seen Hitting $2 per Gallon; AAA Expects Summer Spike

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Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning area drivers to expect gasoline prices to reach $2 per gallon this summer as pump prices approached record levels yesterday.

The national average for regular unleaded gasoline yesterday rose to $1.74 per gallon, 1 cent shy of the record, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. In Washington, gasoline averaged $1.71 per gallon, 9 cents short of the $1.80 local record set in May 2001.

The outlook is expected to worsen as domestic oil inventories dwindle, and political problems in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries threaten to further reduce supplies. U.S. inventories are down to two-weeks supply, compared with the normal one-month supply.

"All of the experts are pointing to gas prices of over $2 per gallon" by this summer, said Deborah DeYoung, spokeswoman for AAA-MidAtlantic.

Summer is the peak driving season, mostly because of vacations.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the Bush administration was "extremely concerned" about high gasoline prices.

United Nations diplomats have been negotiating with the OPEC countries to convince the oil ministers to increase production.

Energy Department officials said factors that have elevated crude-oil prices include unrest in Venezuela that threatens to unseat President Hugo Chavez and federal regulations requiring blending of gasoline with chemical additives to reduce harmful emissions. Crude oil closed down 87 cents per barrel yesterday to $36.39 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In addition, several states are increasing gasoline taxes. Maryland is considering a tax increase of up to 10 cents per gallon. Virginia is considering a tax increase of 3 cents per gallon.

Despite international negotiations, OPEC members plan to carry through on their agreement last month to reduce production quotas by 1 million barrels per day beginning April 1. …