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Lining up for cheap fuel

93.9 a gallon: a real gas

GRANTS PASS -- Motorists were smiling through the rain Tuesday as they scampered in to the cash register from gasoline pumps that read 93.9 cents per gallon.

I just happened to be in Grants Pass today, Medford resident Anna Marino said, beaming. I saw the price -- and I came on in. They need to do that (cut prices) in Medford.

Marino's thirsty Jeep Grand Wagoneer was among a steady stream of cars, pickups and motorhomes that braved the rain Tuesday to fuel up at the Arco mini-mart off Grants Pass Parkway. The station was one of two Grants Pass Arco stations with the lowest-priced gas in the Rogue Valley Tuesday -- 4 cents cheaper than on Monday.

Valley residents long have been accustomed to paying more for gas than metro areas closer to refineries. But this year's El Nino storms have left Arco customers up and down the coast awash in low-priced gas.

We're happy for our customers, Arco spokesman Paul Langland said Tuesday in a phone call from Los Angeles. Traditionally, demand is low and supply is high in the winter. But with all this rain, we think people haven't been driving as much.

Langland said he'd paid no less than Grants Pass customers -- 93.9 cents per gallon -- to fill up at a Torrance, Calif., station on Monday. How long the surplus and low prices will last is anyone's guess, he said.

Elsewhere in Grants Pass, Gas 4 Less was less than a buck at 99.9 cents a gallon for regular unleaded. BP, Shell, Unocal 76, Chevron and Texaco stations were notably less busy at $1.09 per gallon.

In Medford, which doesn't have an Arco mini-mart, Texaco and Exxon service stations near the north Interstate 5 interchange were at $1.13 and $1.11, respectively. Just a bit further off the freeway, a Chevron station on Court Street was matching the prevailing Grants Pass rate at $1.09.

In Talent -- which does have an Arco mini-mart -- prices had dipped to $1.02.

I go by all the time, and I keep track, Medford resident and Talent school teacher Tim Egan crowed Tuesday. It hasn't been that low in a looonng time!

contrast, Mahmoud Arco on San Francisco's Castro Street was selling gas at $1.23 per gallon Tuesday. Though higher than either Grants Pass or Medford, that was lower -- adjusted for inflation -- than in 1970, the California Energy Commission reported Monday. Back then, a gallon of regular sold for 34 cents -- the equivalent of $1.27 in today's dollars.

The commission said Monday that the average price around the state had plunged to $1.10 for regular unleaded. Los Angeles service stations dipped below $1 for the first time since 1991.

In Oregon, a survey by the American Automobile Association in mid-February found similarly happy news, with the average price for a gallon of unleaded then at $1.21, the lowest since July '91.

The good news reached the South and Midwest early. Gas was less than a buck a gallon last month in Pueblo, Colo., and throughout the south from Houston, Tex., to Owensboro, Ky., in January.

Industry analysts blame mild winter temperatures, an Asian recession and El Nino rains for the worldwide glut, but expect prices to rise by Memorial Day.

In Grants Pass, Arco mini-mart attendant Jess Smith-Rowe teased a news photographer as he hustled to fuel Marino's car.

You're going to kill us, he said.

Jess Smith-Rowe keeps up with the steady business Tuesday at an Arco station on Grants Pass Parkway that was offering regular unleaded at 93.9 cents a gallon. There's no telling how long the low prices will last, an Arco spokesman says. - Photo by Jim Craven