Gas drops back toward $2 mark

Gasoline prices in the region have fallen about a penny a day over the past three weeks, bringing the average for a gallon of unleaded fuel closer to $2 a gallon again.

As of Wednesday, the average price in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area for self-serve unleaded was $2.04 a gallon, according to AAA’s daily survey. That was down from $2.30 a month ago.

The statewide average was $2.03, while the national average has fallen to $1.91, 8 cents lower than a month ago.

While the drop has been more gradual than the rapid rise of gas prices in May, it’s a nice change for those who have to fill up regularly.

“I have noticed it,” said Eric Schuh, a Mount Vernon resident who works at the Snohomish County Conservation District office near Lake Stevens.

When Schuh commutes in his half-ton Ford truck, the cost of getting to and from work recently has been at or above $10 a day, he said.

Around Snohomish County, prices vary widely between stations, but many are charging below the region’s average. Along the north half of Broadway in Everett, an Arco station was charging $1.90 a gallon Wednesday, while a nearby Texaco station was still at $2.20. Competing stations had prices around $2.

Similarly, along Fourth Street in Marysville, prices ranged from $1.90 at Arco to $2.06 at Chevron.

Janet Ray, a spokeswoman at AAA’s regional office in Bellevue, said she has noticed many stations below $2 a gallon near her home in south Snohomish County. She wonders how much lower the prices will go, however.

Across the nation, the trend of falling gas prices suddenly reversed last week. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s information service, retail gasoline prices rose about 2 cents nationally after falling seven weeks in a row.

Ray blamed crude oil prices, which have begun rising again.

On Wednesday, the U.S. price of crude oil closed at $41.15 a barrel, its highest level in six weeks, after two reports showed that the nation’s oil and gasoline stockpiles had shrunk in recent weeks.

Worries about oil production in Iraq and other nations, as well as the threat that terrorism may interrupt energy markets, also have kept investors worried.

Bill Bellman, executive director of the Washington Oil Marketers Association, said wholesale prices for gasoline went up a few cents last week. He hopes, though, that the rise was a temporary break in the trend.

“Hopefully, you’ll see them continue to drift down,” he said.

Even if that happens, Ray said she believes prices in the region will probably settle close to $2 a gallon for the rest of the summer.

Once gas prices go way up, they don’t always come all the way back down to where they were. Ray pointed out that a year ago, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in the Puget Sound area was $1.64 – 40 cents below this week’s average.

“I’ve had so many people call or tell me, ‘Wow, gas prices look so good now, they’re only $1.99,” Ray said. “I tell them, ‘I don’t think you would have been saying that last summer.’”

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@ heraldnet.com.

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