Gas Prices

Flickr Creative Commons

For years, natural gas advocates have praised  the fuel as an affordable alternative to gasoline. While some cars and trucks can utilize the fuel, it hasn't been a viable option for larger vehicles -- like semi trucks. That could soon change.

Falling oil prices are perhaps nowhere more welcome than in northern New England, where most homes burn heating oil in their furnaces. But cheaper heating oil is refilling consumers' pockets just as high electric prices are emptying them out.

For example, a heating oil truck delivers 600 gallons of heating oil every two weeks to an old, four-story brick building in Concord, N.H. At last year's oil prices, each refill would have cost around $2,200. Right now, it's more than $300 cheaper.

It's lunchtime in Douglas, Wyo., a town smack in the middle of the state's booming oil patch, and the line of cars at the McDonald's drive-through wraps around the building. A hiring poster hangs in the window, and the parking lot is full.

Troy Hilbish, a tool hand for the oil field servicing company Schlumberger, says while he didn't know oil prices have been falling, he does know what falling prices mean.

"If the oil prices go up, we drill more," Hilbish says. "If they go down, we don't drill as much."

In recent weeks, economists have been worrying about the negative impact of the now-ended government shutdown and potential debt crisis.

But away from Capitol Hill, the economy has been getting a big boost: Gasoline prices have been declining, week after week. In some parts of the country, a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline is now down to less than $3 a gallon — a price most Americans haven't seen in three years.

And any time the pump price starts dropping, consumer spirits start rising.

Supplies of oil have been surging this year, and U.S. drivers, who have been switching to more fuel-efficient cars, are using less gasoline.

That would seem to be the right economic combination to push down prices at the pump, but gasoline prices have remained stubbornly high this summer.

Even some people in the industry are wondering whether the law of supply and demand somehow has been repealed.

FontShopInternational / Creative Commons/Flickr

Ready for a long Memorial Day weekend? If you’re heading out, you may want to look at the numbers. AAA Colorado predicts that 600,000 Coloradans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the weekend.

Thursday morning's economic news:

-- There were 360,000 first-time claims for unemployment insurance last week, up 32,000 from the week before, the Employment and Training Administration says. At 360,000, the pace was the fastest since the last week of March. But it remained well below the 400,000-and-higher rate that lasted from mid-2008 into 2011.

U.S. oil production is rising sharply and increased output from shale will be a "game changer" in global energy markets in the coming years, according to a new report out Tuesday by the International Energy Agency.

Drivers will find this summer's gas prices are lower than last year's, the result of a spike in crude oil production. Government forecasters say a gallon of regular gasoline will cost about $3.50 this summer — a slide of more than 10 cents from last year.

There was a slightly larger-than-expected increase of 0.7 percent in consumer spending from January to February, the Bureau of Economic Analysis says.

Higher gasoline prices, though, were much of the reason for the rise. According to the bureau, if spending is adjusted for inflation the increase was a more modest 0.3 percent — the same as in January. And higher energy costs were behind most of the inflationary pressures last month.

Pages