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Officials: Low demand contributes to gas-price plateau

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Retail gas prices, up for the past couple of weeks, have hit a plateau on this summer's roller coaster of gas prices, according to AAA officials.

Shrinking fuel demand and declining consumer sentiment are factors contributing to stagnate retail gas prices, said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.

Brady said crude oil prices have struggled to reach $80 per barrel for the past two weeks, settling at around $76 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange over the past week.

"Crude oil is still stuck in the $70 to $80 range and this is good news for consumers, since it means retail gas prices will remain relatively unchanged, at least for the next week or so," Brady said.

Metro Atlantans paid an average $2.59 per gallon for regular unleaded gas Wednesday, only one-cent more than they paid the week prior, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Average gas prices are cheaper, still, compared to what metro Atlanta consumers paid a month ago -- $2.62 per gallon for regular unleaded gas.

Georgia and states across the Southeast continue to have the lowest average gas prices in the country, the report revealed. Western states, such as California, which averaged $3.14 per gallon for regular unleaded Wednesday, continue to have the highest average gas prices in the country.

Prices along the West Coast also have held stable over the past week, keeping with energy officials' projections of moderate gas and crude oil prices for the remainder of the year.

Officials with the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) project that the West Texas Intermediate crude oil spot price -- which ended June near $76 per barrel -- will average $79 per barrel over the second half of 2010.

EIA's "Short-Term Energy Outlook," released earlier this month, anticipates the average cost for a gallon of regular unleaded gas will be $2.80, for the period between April 1 and Sept. 30. That price is down from an earlier projection of $2.92 per gallon, but up from the $2.44 per gallon average last summer.

Brady believes gas prices will remain below the $3-mark and above the $2-mark for the remainder of the year, with fluctuations throughout the summer and fall seasons.

"I think the $2-mark is going to be our new $1-mark," Brady said. "Unless a hurricane threatens refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, or more positive economic reports are released, consumers can expect gas prices to stay within an affordable range."