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Nevada gasoline prices plunge

Gasoline prices in Nevada just posted their largest monthly decline ever, and it appears some consumers have met the drop with boosts in spending and traveling.

The average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded fuel in the Silver State tumbled 96 cents, from $3.39 to $2.43, between Oct. 11 and Tuesday, according to travel club AAA. Las Vegas saw a 92-cent falloff in the same period, from $3.32 to $2.40.

Motorists fueling up Tuesday at a Chevron station at Rancho Drive and Bonanza Road said the relief makes a major difference in their budgets.

Las Vegan Steve Deyo cut out road trips to Arizona and New Mexico when gasoline prices surged past $4 a gallon over the summer. But Deyo, a Clark County employee, has recently begun planning new adventures.

“I avoided driving when prices were super high,” said Deyo, who drives a 2004 Nissan Sentra. “Now, I might not think twice about it. It eases my mind a lot.”

And nurse Crystal Merrick said she’s stopped bringing lunch to the office from home and has returned instead to grabbing a bite at restaurants near the Henderson nursing home where she works. It’s a small luxury she can better afford since lower gasoline prices eased the expense of her 18-mile commute from central Las Vegas.

“It’s made a difference in my life, but not a big difference,” said Merrick as she fueled her 1999 Saturn SL2.

Credit the drop in prices to plummeting crude oil prices, experts said.

“The major decrease in gas prices can be directly tied to the similar drop in crude oil, which has fallen about 56 percent since reaching a record of more than $147 in mid-July,” said Michael Geeser, AAA Nevada spokesman, in a written statement. “The crude oil price is simply a response to a lack of demand and the economic trouble being felt around the world.”

Peter Krueger, head of the Nevada Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, agreed that cheaper petroleum spurred price breaks at the pump.

“The bottom has fallen out of crude oil, and that’s taken a lot of pressure off of speculation and hedging,” Krueger said.

In July, the average gasoline price in Nevada reached a record $4.45 a gallon. The high mark in Las Vegas came on June 21, when prices topped out at $4.28.

During the summer, consumers around the nation cut back on driving, consolidating trips or using public transportation to save money.

AAA said a recent study of motorists in Nevada, California and Utah showed 69 percent of its members were driving less, while 55 percent said they were considering changing their vehicle to a more fuel-efficient model.

“The question that is still unanswered is how low prices will go before motorists decide to drive more and push demand back up,” Geeser said.

Las Vegan Daniel Dew said he’s already hitting local roads more often.

“Over the summer, I was just to the point where I couldn’t afford to put gas in,” Dew said. “I was just going to sit at home and let the truck sit there. Now, things are back to seminormal.”

Dew, who drives a 2003 Toyota Tundra, said the soft economy also ate into his earnings, compounding the troubles he faced affording gasoline. Dew handles yard work and books Polynesian performers for a living, and tightfisted consumers meant fewer sales.

“If this isn’t my worst year financially, it ties it,” Dew said.

But Dew eats out more now, though he still looks for bargains. He also hits the road nearly every day now to run errands and do business, but he’s careful to hold the mileage down a bit.

Krueger said he expects prices to linger in the $2.30 to $2.65 range through January, barring any substantial geopolitical strife that pinches production in oil-producing regions around the world. Slightly higher fuel use among drivers shouldn’t push up prices noticeably through the winter, Krueger said, because a statewide unemployment rate of 7.3 percent and persistent struggles in the housing market will likely suppress big gains in demand.

Nationally, the average price fell 94 cents in November to $2.22.

Prices also fell 98 cents in Reno to $2.46, and 99 cents in Carson City to $2.43.

The average price plunged $1 in Sparks to $2.45.

In Elko, the price dropped $1.34 to $2.53 — still the most expensive in the state.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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