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    Low Fuel Prices Expected to Last

    Barring a significant cut in oil production, gas could reach nationwide lows of about $1 per gallon.


    Barring unforeseen events that could disrupt supplies, prices that have dipped across the country -- to as low as 97 cents per gallon in New Jersey -- are expected to hold for awhile, according to the Chicago Daily Herald.

    "We predict there will be a lot more people driving over Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Steve Nolan, director of communications for AAA Chicago Motor Club. AAA operates 20 travel agencies in Illinois and Indiana.

    Lower crude oil costs, a drop in demand and fierce competition have combined to lower the national average price of gasoline. The AAA this week reported the national average for gas was nearly $1.24 per gallon, the lowest level in more than two years. The Chicago average, which peaked at more than $2 per gallon just a year ago, was $1.25 per gallon. Prices have come down about 60 cents a gallon in the past two months.

    The Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its weekly survey of more than 800 convenience stores, pegged the national average at just more than $1.20 per gallon. "I would say for the next month or so, we should see prices creep down even more," said Nolan.

    "Nationally, gas prices may drop another 5 to 10 cents a gallon," said Doug MacIntyre, an analyst with the EIA. "Prices could vary depending on changes in crude oil prices, which are to be discussed next week by OPEC. Assuming that nothing else happens, it could be around this price for most of the winter."

    The Midwest has been particularly vulnerable to price spikes because it produces most of its gasoline at five local refineries. Problems, such as an August fire at a Citgo refinery in Lemont, tighten the market by restricting supply and driving up prices.

    The situation is more precarious during the summer when refineries must make special blends of gasoline required in Chicago and other areas to fight pollution. That requirement ended on Sept. 15. The Lemont refinery now is producing gasoline at about capacity, said spokeswoman Kate Robbins, by using partially refined crude oil and bypassing the damaged part of its refinery, which is still being repaired.

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