Southland gasoline prices have declined steadily in recent weeks, fueling hope among some consumers that energy prices will soon return to more reasonable levels. But don’t get your hopes up. A report released recently by the Energy Department says oil prices will likely hover in the mid-$40-per-barrel range or higher for years to come, forcing a shift to more fuel-efficient cars and alternative fuels. The report scuttled earlier predictions that costs would drop to around $30 per barrel. Rob Schlichting, a spokesman for the California Energy Commission, said oil prices will remain high in part because of increased demand from overseas. “We’re seeing incredible demand from China and India as their economies improve,” he said. “That puts a lot of upward pressure on the world oil market.” In the short term, disruptions to Gulf Coast refineries because of the recent hurricanes have further reduced inventories, according to Schlichting. “Production in the Gulf Coast area is still off 30 percent,” he said. “Supplies are tighter than we’d like to see.” The Energy Department’s report said oil prices will average $54 per barrel by 2025, increasing to an average of $57 per barrel by 2030 when adjusted for inflation. Crude oil prices have been hovering around $60 per barrel and briefly soared as high as $70 earlier this year. And whenever the per-barrel price of oil rises, it’s felt at the pump by consumers. “The rule of thumb is that for every $1 increase in a barrel of oil, prices at the pump will rise about 2 1/2 cents,” Schlichting said. In other words, if oil rose from $45 per barrel to $60 per barrel, motorists would pay nearly 38 cents more per gallon to fill up. But the fallout from high energy costs extends well beyond our nation’s freeways. “We’re always looking at gasoline prices, but high diesel prices are also having a big effect on trucking,” said Jack Kyser, senior vice president and chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “Jet fuel prices have had a major impact on the airlines, and businesses that use a lot of natural gas, like textile manufacturers and food processors, are also being hurt.” So how will this affect consumers in the coming years? “I think the auto industry is going to have to get more innovative in terms of hybrid vehicles,” Kyser said. “The Toyota Prius is selling well but there have been some problems with it – the new ones are stopping unexpectedly. We’re still struggling to find good alternative-fuel vehicles.” Toyota was the first automaker to begin mass-producing hybrids, with its Prius in 1997. The Japanese-based company sold 53,761 Prius cars in the United States last year and Prius sales rose 133 percent during the first eight months of 2005. But hybrids still represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. market. Some analysts figure that could grow to as much as 35 percent by 2015, but others have been more conservative in their predictions. Baldwin Park resident Frances Garcia said the recent drop in gasoline prices has been welcome. “It’s a relief,” the 39-year-old motorist said. “I do a lot of driving locally and also have to take my daughters to and from school. I’m constantly putting in gas.” Garcia says she’ll have to alter her driving habits if prices head back up again. “I’m going to think wisely about where I have to go,” she said. “I might have to combine some of my errands.” On Friday, the lowest local price for gasoline could be found at a Texaco station in Azusa, an Arco in Whittier and Shell in San Dimas, all of which posted regular unleaded at $2.09 per gallon. But remnants of higher fuel prices still lingered, with a Northridge carwash selling regular for $2.79 per gallon. Baldwin Park mechanic Danny Miranda, 61, said his business will be hurt if gasoline prices head up again – especially if they reach peak levels again. “I’d have about 25 percent less business because a lot of people would choose not to drive,” he said. “I think the economy is going to go down if energy prices stay as high as they are.” The average cost for a gallon of regular gas in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area on Friday was $2.28 a gallon – well below the Sept. 6 record high of $2.99 a gallon, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. “In the near term, I think we’ll see gas start to head up again,” Auto Club spokeswoman Marie Montgomery said. “It’s cyclical. It’s a time of lower demand, so refineries are going to be shutting down for maintenance and they will also be converting from winter to summer grade fuel.” Montgomery said it would be difficult to predict how gas prices will behave long-term for the coming year. California gets nearly 42 percent of its oil from in-state oil fields. Another 36.4 percent comes from foreign sources and 21.6 percent comes from Alaska. firstname.lastname@example.org (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2701 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!