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Experts: Local gas prices are dropping, but don’t expect $5 per gallon anytime soon

For many motorists, $5 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was the standard for truly expensive gas.

Then in February, Russia invaded the Ukraine, triggering a worldwide spike in fuel costs that sent Sonoma County gas prices, in particular, surging far above the $5 mark.

Now, five months later, with gas prices across California topping $6 per gallon,new standards are being set for expensive fuel.

Though the nation is four weeks into a downward trend in gas prices, experts say, it could be a long time before the local cost of gas returns to its former $5 per gallon benchmark.

“It is definitely not out of the question for gasoline to be under $5 again, but I think it will probably take months or years to get down there,” said Severin Borenstein, a UC Berkeley energy economist.

Gas prices have been falling for about 30 days and Sonoma County and Santa Rosa’s average prices per gallon both dipped Tuesday to $6.04 from $6.60 about a month ago, according to AAA.

That translated to Santa Rosa gas stations charging as little as $5.49 per gallon Tuesday, according to Gas Buddy, a website that tracks prices across the country.

Healdsburg resident Mary Romero paid $5.79 per gallon Tuesday at the Safeway station on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. Never in her life, she said, did she expect people to yearn for $5 fuel.

“I remember thinking it would get (to $5 per gallon) and stop going up. But then it just kept going up and up,” Romero, 18, said as she filled a Honda Civic. “I just want to go back to where it was. Five dollars is better than $6.”

Prices depend heavily on the cost of oil, which sold for just under $100 per barrel Tuesday, and Borenstein said they would need to drop another $40 in order for gas prices to reduce by another $1 per gallon.

“That’s a bigger drop than most oil analysts, or the oil futures market, anticipate seeing in the next couple years,” he said.

Concerns of a recession are also playing a role in falling fuel prices but the best way to stay the course in the long term is to reduce worldwide demand for oil, Borenstein said.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, such as hurricanes or refinery shutdowns, the current trend could at least continue into August, said Patrick De Haan, Gas Buddy’s head of petroleum analysis.

He estimated the nationwide average, which was $4.65 per gallon Tuesday, could fall between $4 and $4.25 per gallon by next month.

“There remains the risk of a spike in prices that could send us to new record levels in August, should any disruptions occur,” De Haan said. “It could be a wild ride, but for now, the plummet at the pump shall continue.”

He added that California’s average was $6.06 per gallon Tuesday and could fall below $6 by next week.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

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