Gas, heating oil prices falling on LI

John Meaney, a heating-oil truck driver for Engelmann John Meaney, a heating-oil truck driver for Engelmann Energy, makes a home heating oil delivery in Northport. (Oct. 13, 2011) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Prices for gasoline and heating oil are falling on Long Island as shortages from superstorm Sandy fade into memory, but they remain higher than a year ago.

Regular gasoline averaged $3.829 a gallon in Nassau and Suffolk counties Wednesday morning, the AAA said, down almost 34 cents from the recent peak on Nov. 11 when motorists waited in long lines. But the new average is still 24.2 cents higher than a year earlier.

Last year, prices dropped through the fall and early winter so that the Long Island average for regular bottomed at $3.541 a gallon on Dec. 26.

Improving supplies and weak demand suggest gasoline prices will fall further, said industry consultant Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates Llc of Houston.

"Nationwide, gasoline prices are going to continue to drop by another five or 10 cents a gallon through the holiday season," he said.

Beyond that, he said, scheduled maintenance in January at a Philadelphia refinery, followed by maintenance downtime at other refineries, will likely keep prices from falling much further.

MasterCard Inc. said earlier this week that Americans purchased 2.8 percent fewer gallons of gasoline last week than a year earlier -- or 59.6 million barrels.

"Demand is very poor, and the outlook for January is dismal," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J., which does the price surveys for AAA. Beyond the seasonal decline in driving in winter, experts attribute the weak demand to general economic uncertainty, still-high unemployment, the prospect of high heating bills this winter and concerns about higher taxes if the nation goes over the federal budget "fiscal cliff."

Heating oil averaged $4.233 a gallon as of Monday at full-service retailers on Long Island, said the state Energy Research and Development Authority. That's down 7.1 cents from the recent peak of $4.304 on Nov. 12 but still 18 cents higher than a year earlier.

Inventory levels of heating oil have been improving in recent weeks but remain below those of a year ago, suggesting that a spate of cold weather could tighten supplies, said Lipow and Kloza. "We're walking on eggshells," Kloza said.

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