Gas Prices Fall, but Relief Likely Short-Term

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Byline: Marguerite Higgins, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Gas prices nationwide have dropped for the fourth consecutive week, but industry analysts say consumers should expect to see prices jump again as the summer driving season picks up.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline decreased about 5 cents nationwide this week to $1.94, after hitting a record in May at $2.06. Gas prices also fell in the Washington area to $1.98 from $2.01 last week. Average gas prices in the Washington area hit a record $2.05 on June 3.

Energy analyst Fadel Gheit credited the recent drop in gas rates to the declining prices of crude oil and plans by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase production.

But gas prices generally creep up 4 to 5 cents per gallon right before the Fourth of July and rise as much as 12 cents before tapering off in September, said Mr. Gheit, who works with New York brokerage firm Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

Most of that expected increase will depend on consumer demand, said George Gaspar, an oil analyst at Milwaukee investment bank Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.

Although gasoline demand was up 5 percent in April, there was little increase in May, which Mr. Gaspar attributed to more Americans cutting back on driving.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Sue Akey said more U.S. drivers are making road trips this summer than in the past summer. About 4 percent more drivers were on the road this Memorial Day weekend than in the similar period last year, according to the D.C. motorist organization.

Security concerns in the Middle East, especially over the transfer of authority next week from the U.S.-led coalition to the new Iraqi government, also will play a role in determining whether gas prices rise next month.

Additionally, a strike by oil workers since Friday in Oslo has reduced production for the world's third largest oil exporter by 375,000 barrels a day. …