Chris Kahn and John Porretto
Associated Press
February 16, 2009

Editor’s note: High gas prices are the fault of a “energy market turned upside-down,” and have nothing to do with a conspiracy to fleece the commoners. Sure. And there is a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.

Crude oil prices have fallen to new lows for this year. So you’d think gas prices would sink right along with them.

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Not so.

On Thursday, for example, crude oil closed just under $34 a barrel, its lowest point for 2009. But the national average price of a gallon of gas rose to $1.95 on the same day, its peak for the year. On Friday gas went a penny higher.

To drivers once again grimacing as they tank up, it sounds like a conspiracy. But it has more to do with an energy market turned upside-down that has left gas cut off from its usual economic moorings.

The price of gas is indeed tied to oil. It’s just a matter of which oil.

The benchmark for crude oil prices is West Texas Intermediate, drilled exactly where you would imagine. That’s the price, set at the New York Mercantile Exchange, that you see quoted on business channels and in the morning paper.

Right now, in an unusual market trend, West Texas crude is selling for much less than inferior grades of crude from other places around the world. A severe economic downturn has left U.S. storage facilities brimming with it, sending prices for the premium crude to five-year lows.

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