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Oklahoma Gas Prices Remain At Record Levels

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gas prices soared to record highs in Oklahoma on Monday as the state outpaced the national average by nearly 10 cents per gallon. The average price for one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Oklahoma was $3.28 on Monday, while the national average was $3.19, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report.

Oklahoma traditionally ranks among the lowest prices in the nation, but recently has been among the top 20 states in high gas prices.

``I've never seen anything like this,'' said Chuck Mai, a spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. ``The current prices we're seeing in Oklahoma are unprecedented in my experience, and I've been doing this for 20 years.''

Among neighboring states, Texas averaged $3.07, Kansas was $3.35, Arkansas was $3.16, Colorado was $3.33 and New Mexico was $3.39.

While Mai said he's puzzled as to why Oklahoma's price continues to outpace the national average, he said the limited refining capacity does play a role in the high prices.

``The problem is not a shortage of oil _ there's a lot of oil sloshing around,'' Mai said. ``But the refineries are struggling to provide enough gasoline in the various blends that are required nationwide.''

Mike Thornbrugh, a spokesman for Tulsa-based QuikTrip convenience stores, agreed that low supplies and high demand, combined with a handful of problems at refineries in the Midwest, has led to price spikes in the region.

``We're just as frustrated as everyone else to see the high gas prices,'' said Thornbrugh, whose company owns and operates 479 stores in nine states, mostly in the Midwest. ``We're an end consumer as well. We don't produce it, we don't refine it and we don't transport it.''

During a campaign stop in Tulsa on Monday, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., weighed in on how gas prices could be kept down.

``It would mean exploitation of domestic oil and natural gas resources, which is a big issue here in the state of Oklahoma,'' McCain said. ``It would mean nuclear power, it would mean alternate energy, including all forms of ethanol, and nuclear power would play a very big role.''

Mai said he expects the average prices in Oklahoma will drop to below the national average within the next several weeks.

``I really don't see these high prices sticking around much longer,'' Maid said. ``We typically see a knee-jerk reaction to events unfolding, and the price may jump 10, 15 or 20 cents a gallon. I refer to it as a reverse roller-coaster because prices shoot up and then come down very slowly.''

While gas prices continue to soar, the use of public transportation also was on the rise in Oklahoma City and Norman, transit officials said.

The number of people using city buses increased about 5 percent in March compared to the same month last year, said Mark Pritchard, assistant director of Metro Transit.

``I don't think families are leaving their third or fourth cars at home, but certainly the transit-using public may be making more trips by transit, and there may be a greater share of the overall citizenry who may try using transit with gas prices this high,'' Pritchard said.

In Norman, officials with the Cleveland County Area Rapid Transit said the number of riders on the Sooner Express that takes commuters each day to Oklahoma City has increased dramatically.

``Typically, as gas prices go up in the summer, our Sooner Express numbers start to climb as well,'' said CART spokesman Kris Glenn. ``The increases we're seeing right now are greater than usual.''

Pritchard and Glenn said they also are seeing an increased use among bicyclists since buses in both cities added bike racks to the front of city buses.

``You will never see our Main Street bus without a bike on it,'' Glenn said. ``Those bike racks have been a huge success.''

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