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Good afternoon. I'm pleased to be joined here today by Deputy Energy Secretary Frank Blake, and by Robert Darbelnet, president of the 44-million member American Automobile Association. AAA has been working closely with the Department over the past two weeks to help monitor the nation's gas situation and to educate consumers. I am grateful for AAA's assistance. Mr. Darbelnet will speak in a few minutes about AAA's efforts so far, and then we'll take questions from the press.
I want to report to the nation on oil and gas supplies and gas prices in the wake of the September 11 attacks. I have very good news on these fronts: Our supplies of oil and gas remain strong and stable, and the terrorist attacks appear to have had little or no adverse effects on them.
So I want to urge the American people to stay calm and not worry about the supply at your neighborhood gas station. There is absolutely no reason for consumers to hoard gasoline.
Further, gasoline prices have not risen in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In fact, they have dropped. The average price of a gallon of gas this week has dropped more than 4 cents to $1.485 since the morning of September 11. Meanwhile the price of diesel has dropped as well. These prices are down, as I said, from two weeks ago. And they are down from one year ago.
The drop in prices is due somewhat to the end of the peak summer driving season that ended Labor Day weekend. The larger point, though, is that our nation's oil and gas supply was unaffected by the tragic events in New York and Washington.
That's good news, but we shouldn't let it mask the fact that in this country we had some very serious refining and infrastructure problems that existed before September 11. Those still exist, and they can affect supply.
In the Midwest, for instance, inventories remain somewhat low, and one key refinery in Illinois is virtually closed because of a major fire last month. Yet we haven't built a new major oil refinery in the United States in nearly a generation. Natural gas distribution, meanwhile, is hindered by an aging and inadequate network of pipelines.
So these are problems that have to be addressed, especially given that we anticipate US oil consumption rising by 33 percent in the next two decades. We address these problems in the president's comprehensive energy package presently before Congress. We are fortunate that the terrorist attacks have not had a harmful impact on supply, but we have supply questions here at home which need to be tackled. So it is very important that we move forward with the national energy policy.
Internationally, there is good news as well. Earlier today OPEC elected not to cut production levels, despite the world price of oil sinking to a recent low. In Vienna last week I met with OPEC Secretary General Rodriquez and the various energy ministers before their annual meeting and urged them to take action consistent with a growing worldwide economy. Their decision today shows that they did just that.
Let me touch on another matter. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, you may recall, there were disturbing reports of gas stations in some regions of the country charging upwards of $5 per gallon of gas.
At my direction, the Energy Information Administration investigated these reports, as well as the domestic supply situation. What they quickly found was that there was no supply disruption to justify such prices.
To monitor the situation, we established a toll-free number for consumers to call in order to report instances of extraordinarily high gasoline prices. We received thousands of calls, and working with national petroleum trade groups, we were able to convince many gas station owners to return to normal prices.
We are going to keep that hotline up and running, so don't hesitate to call if you see any prices that are clearly out of line. I can't stress enough: We have sufficient oil and gas supplies, so there is no justification for gas prices rising to four or five dollars per gallon.
The number for our gas price hotline is (800) 244-3301.
That's just one way the public can help. Another and more important way is to keep calm. I can't urge this enough. Public overreaction can have a severe effect on prices. Hoarding gas would surely spike prices and create a supply problem that doesn't really exist.
Now, let me turn it over to AAA's Robert Darbelnet.
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