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Officials: Oil spill not yet reflected at gas pumps

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The effects of the massive Gulf Coast oil spill have yet to be seen in crude oil, and retail gasoline prices, though stepped-up investments in crude oil have elevated prices, according to energy officials.

"The higher crude oil prices have meant higher retail gas prices, and most of that had been occurring before the oil spill," said Neil Gamson, economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The U.S. Department of Energy said in its first situation report on the oil spill, last Friday, that refiners had not experienced any impacts from the oil spill. The energy department reported, however, that the oil spill has the potential to impact several electric power generation facilities in the Gulf Coast region, as cooling water systems for four power plants along the Gulf of Mexico could be damaged, if their water supply becomes contaminated with oil.

Gamson said the impact of the oil spill might be larger on the local economy and eco-system, than on national energy prices. "Right now, prices don't seem to be affected, but the situation changes daily," said Gamson. "But we're monitoring that very closely."

Gamson said consumers are still feeling a swell in gas prices, due largely to positive economic news for those investing in crude oil. "The higher crude oil prices, the better economic growth globally," he said, "and the higher crude oil prices, the higher the retail gas prices."

Georgia's average prices have climbed by more than a nickel per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline over the past week, ending Monday at an average of $2.80 per gallon, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. AAA reported that the nationwide average price increased by 4 cents over the week.

AAA Auto Club South Spokeswoman Jessica Brady said three factors contributed to this past week's price hikes, which are the result of rising crude oil prices: Crude oil prices rose by more than a dollar per barrel, to break $86 per barrel, last week, because of the weakened U.S. dollar. Also, two positive economic reports demonstrated improvement in the state of the economy.

The first report she cited was issued by the U.S. Energy Department on April 28, which revealed that fuel consumption in the U.S. over the past four weeks rose 3.1 percent, year-over-year, or by 9.2 million barrels per day.

"The other report was released by the Commerce Department and showed that the U.S. economy grew at a 3.2 percent rate in the first quarter of 2010," Brady said. "Such optimistic news is viewed as solid evidence that the economy is on the rise, thus boosting investor confidence that fuel demand is increasing."

Brady added that crude oil prices are continuing their upward drive because U.S. refineries are not presently at full capacity, and "demand has been increasing at a very slow pace, and not increasing at an abundance to where we're using up our stock piles."

"Retail gasoline prices should gain a few cents this week in response to the higher price of crude oil," she said. "And, as devastating as the oil spill is, it is not expected to influence short-term retail gasoline prices."