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Marylanders welcome gas prices below $3 a gallon

Marylanders welcome gas prices below $3 a gallon
People pump gas at Royal Farms on Russell Street, where the price for regular gas is $2.99. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Tatiana Fish lives in Pigtown, works a restaurant job in Fells Point, attends classes at the Community College of Baltimore County and usually visits her father twice a week in Montgomery County.

Meeting all her obligations requires the 23-year-old to regularly fill her gas tank, she said — making the sign advertising $2.99-a-gallon gas at the Royal Farms store on Russell Street a welcome sight Monday.

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"It's definitely nice to think I'm not going to be spending $80 on gas this week," Fish said, which she did over the summer, when prices were closer to $3.60 a gallon.

While gas prices are normally lower in the fall than in the summer, they have dropped sharply in recent weeks in Maryland and across the country thanks to a dive in the global price of crude oil.

Crude oil is selling now for just over $80 a barrel, down from more than $100 as recently as July, driven by global supply and demand — a strong supply of crude oil, including in the United States, and weak international demand, including in Europe and China. It's a classic formula for lower prices.

"It's just competition," said Charles Olson, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "Gas prices are very, very driven by that."

On Monday, the average price per gallon of regular gas in the state stood at $3.08, down 11 cents from a week ago and 24 cents below a month ago, according to driver advocacy group AAA Mid-Atlantic. The last time Maryland's average gas price was this low was in January 2011.

The average in the Baltimore region was even lower, at $3.04, and some individual gas stations in competitive locations had cut costs to below $3. At the Shell station next to the Royal Farms on Russell Street, the per-gallon cost of regular-grade gas also stood at $2.99. At the nearby Citgo, it was $2.98. The average in Salisbury was $2.96, AAA said.

National and Maryland averages were about 25 cents below where they stood a year ago, and 17 states had reached an average of less than $3, according to AAA.

Ragina Cooper Averella, a AAA spokeswoman, said it's "always good news to see gas prices go down," and the slide might not be over. Barring unforeseen circumstances, she said, AAA expects prices could fall as much as 20 cents more by the end of the year.

That would "bode well for those planning holiday travel," she said.

Drivers on Russell Street certainly took note.

"It is much better when it's not that high," said Damien Lee, 26, who said he drives a lot for his construction job and remembers prices of $3.29 not too long ago. "Thirty cents helps."

"It's a blessing," said Serena Johnson, 44, of the price drop.

Johnson lives in Landover but often drives to Baltimore to bring a family member to doctor appointments, she said.

"I'm always looking for the next penny off, because this big boy takes a lot of gas," she said as she filled up her minivan.

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The Smith School's Olson said every penny shaved from the national average gas price also matters to the economy overall, with some estimates showing a penny decrease is equal to an additional $1 billion that Americans will spend on other goods.

Still, the decline in the price of gas— especially if it lingers beyond the perennially low fall season — also could have drawbacks, he said.

Expensive gas tends to make consumers more conservative, making them more conscious of their fuel consumption and limiting their individual impact on the environment.

If gas prices continue to fall, "it will probably be more bad news than good news," Olson said. "It's going to make bigger, faster, less-efficient cars more affordable, and people will take advantage of that."

Steven Isberg, an associate professor of finance at the University of Baltimore Merrick School of Business, said dropping gas prices also must be looked at by consumers "in the context of what's going on with prices and inflation in general."

Consumers in Maryland and elsewhere in the country have seen other costs — such as for food — rise even as their salaries have remained flat, Isberg said.

"I love it when I can fill up my tank for $60 instead of $75, but I don't know if I'm going to jump for joy," Isberg said.

Kathleen Matthews, 71, said she was happy to see fuel costs drop. The former longtime Baltimore resident now lives in Selbyville, Del., but still has Ravens season tickets and was in the city for last weekend's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Higher gas prices wouldn't stop Matthews from driving to Baltimore for games, she said, but lower costs don't hurt.

"I'm forced to get a certain amount of gas every so often, so the less cost, the more money in my pocket," she said as she filled up at Royal Farms for her trip back to Delaware on Monday afternoon.

Fish, the Pigtown resident, said gas prices greatly affect how she gets about town. Over the summer, she tried not to drive as much and conserve when she could, she said.

But at $2.99 a gallon, she said, "I feel as though I might have a little more freedom."

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