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Energy prices at lowest point in 2 1/2 years

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The nation's energy prices sunk to the lowest point in two and a half years this week, sliding downward two weeks after price spikes that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

November crude oil futures fell 15 percent Monday to $22.01 a barrel from post-attack highs of about $31.

Natural gas prices slumped to their lowest point in more than two years.

Oil prices have decreased more than 26 percent since the start of last week as traders worried about a possible global recession.

October gasoline futures shed 12 percent Monday to end at 63.6 cents per gallon. The full effect hasn't shown up at gas pumps yet.

Industry experts said the price cuts will benefit consumers, but not Oklahoma's energy-dependent economy.

``We're seeing the potential over the next three to six months of a decline in prices _ along with the chance of short-term volatility,'' said Dennis O'Brien, an industry expert who is director of the Institute of Energy Economics and Policy at the University of Oklahoma. ``If we go into a real economic slide, then oil will be in oversupply,'' assuring markedly lower prices.

Industry observers aren't sure how long the slump will last. Some believe that, though prices could spike temporarily due to military moves, the world will escape the extreme oil shocks of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Analysts said the market could change if the U.S. takes military action.

Natural gas prices are the most insulated from world events because use of the North American product depends largely on weather, they said. Natural gas saw only a slight bump after the attacks, and then resumed its yearlong slide from a January record high of close to $10 per thousand cubic feet.

The October New York Mercantile Exchange natural gas contract fell sharply Monday to settle around $1.92 per thousand cubic feet.

Natural gas prices are down for several reasons, said Tony S. Say, president of Clearwater Energy Marketing and a gas trader for Chesapeake Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City.

He said it appears natural gas storage for the coming winter will be full, unlike last year. Also, U.S. industry has lowered gas use after being burned by last winter's record prices.

But no one expects natural gas prices to stay down long-term. Industry pundits are predicting a decade-long swell in gas demand as the U.S. builds more power plants to meet electricity demand.

The crude that supplies U.S. gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil should keep flowing, said Harry Parker, a chemical engineering professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Tom Kivisto, an oil industry observer who is chief executive of STG Inc. in Tulsa, insists Saudi Arabia's leaders have a vested interest in keeping the world's oil supply flowing. The Saudis want to stave off a world economic plunge that would curtail oil demand long-term.

``They're not going to let things get out of hand,'' Kivisto said.

Also in the United States' favor is the fact that much imported oil doesn't come from the Middle East.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said that in 2000 less than 27 percent of the total U.S. imported crude oil came from the Persian Gulf. The majority came from the Western Hemisphere, including Mexico, Canada and Venezuela.
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