By Johnny Jackson
Motorists in metro Atlanta may be wondering where and when the area's record gas-price declines will end.
Energy officials expect prices to continue to decline at a lesser rate than seen last month, largely due to the recent economic downtown and record-high gas prices that cut consumption this past summer and fall.
On Wednesday, gas prices averaged $2.36 per gallon of regular unleaded nationwide, down sharply from a month ago when average prices were above $3.50 per gallon.
In Georgia, prices are down to $2.21 per gallon from $3.80 in October. Metro Atlanta prices are fairing even better at $2.17, with some gas stations posting gas prices below $2 per gallon; which is nearly $2 cheaper ($1.76 difference) than the $3.93 metro Atlantans paid this time last month.
Atlantans are paying significantly less for gas than they did a year ago, when they were paying an average $2.96 per gallon. Nationwide, the prices are the lowest they have been since February 2007 - more than a year and a half ago.
Officials with AAA Auto Club South say the steep fall in gas prices this fall has been unparalleled. They say that even with retail gasoline prices plummeting and investors fleeing from crude oil and other commodities, October's volatility did not harm ExxonMobil, which reported $14.8 billion in third quarter net income, setting a new record in profits.
Royal Dutch Shell also reported $8.4 billion in third quarter profits.
"Last week's report from the U.S. Department of Energy showed little change from previous weeks," said AAA Spokesman Gregg Laskoski, earlier this week. "We had a nominal gain in crude oil inventory and a nominal decline in gasoline inventory.
"More importantly," he added, "OPEC's reduction in fuel production was met with skepticism and the Dollar continued to gain ground versus the Euro. Americans continue to use much less gasoline than was projected, reflecting the stalled economy. In the weeks ahead, we still expect retail gasoline prices to go lower, but we also expect the rate of decline to diminish.
National consumption of oil, which has fallen by about 1 million barrels per day in 2008 relative to 2007, is expected to fall again by a smaller amount in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In contrast to this year's circumstances in which skyrocketing prices drove consumption lower, the 2009 decline will be driven by reduced economic activity and will likely be mitigated by substantially lower average oil prices in 2009, compared to 2008.