By Johnny Jackson
While refinery strikes in France have left local crude oil supplies drained, stockpiles in the United States remain relatively robust, according to officials with AAA Auto Club South.
"Over in Europe, five refineries, right now, are shut down. But it's relatively stable here, right now," said AAA Public Relations Manager Jessica Brady. "The European strike really isn't having an effect on crude oil prices. We're right in the same price margin as we were last year."
Brady noted crude oil closed on the New York Mercantile Exchange, on Oct. 15, at a two-week low of $81.25 a barrel. Crude oil had remained at about that level through Friday as reported in Bloomberg's Stock Market and Financial Markets Overview.
The moderate crude oil pricing has kept prices flat at the pump, she said. However, gas prices in this first month of the fourth quarter continue to reflect gas price levels experienced during the summer.
Friday's national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $2.82, about 10-cents higher than at the same time in September, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
The report revealed that average prices in metro Atlanta are 9-cents higher than a month ago, and area consumers have paid an average $2.70 per gallon of regular unleaded gas on a daily basis, for more than a week now.
The prices are higher than prices were this summer, from June through August, said Parminder Singh Grewal, the owner of McDonough Station.
Grewal said his neighborhood gas station is having to compete with larger, cheaper retailers at a time when his store typically gets more foot traffic. When prices decline in the fall months, he said, customers have more spare cash to spend in his convenience store.
"We try to give them a good deal," Grewal said. "I'm friendly with the customers, and I try to help them with what they need."
The average per-barrel price of crude oil is expected to be comparatively higher this winter than last, and even higher next winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
EIA's October Short-term Energy Outlook outlined expectations that the price of crude oil would average about $80 per barrel this winter, a $2.50-per-barrel increase over last winter. Its forecast for average prices rises gradually to $85 per barrel by the fourth quarter of 2011.
"We said the average for the year was going to be about $85," added Jessica Brady, of AAA Auto Club South. "We're seeing that a lot of these stocks and equities are doing pretty good right now, and that's a main driving force in what we're seeing with crude oil prices."
The increased value of the dollar, she continued, is helping keep crude oil and gas prices down because it lessens the appeal of crude oil as a commodity to foreign investors.
"Retail [gas] prices should stay somewhat stable until it's known whether the dollar will continue to strengthen or see further declines," Brady said. "If the dollar rises in value, then it's a win-win."