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Falling gas prices: good news for consumers, warning for oil producers

Gas prices are expected to keep falling after another milestone. A new survey found the average cost of regular gas is at its cheapest point in more than 5.5 years, dropping 25 cents to just $2.47 per gallon. But the good news for drivers is scary for some American towns, reports CBS News correspondent Vicente Arenas

Record U.S. oil production is driving global supply up and prices down to less than $60 a barrel, but many in the industry fear this boom could ultimately end in a bust and that has oil dependent communities fearing tough times ahead.

On a weekday morning at the Boom-A-Rang diner in Seminole, Oklahoma, the talk is all about the plunging price of crude.

"Look at this place. It's usually full in the morning with oil field people," oil field worker James Whisnant said. "There are just a few of us in here because they can't afford to come in and eat."

They can't afford it because oil contractors here are getting fewer and fewer hours of work. Falling oil prices, while good for many consumers, make it harder for producers like Melvin Moran to keep his workers fully employed. Moran has 80 wells in and around Seminole.

"If price continues to fall, this unit will no longer be profitable," Moran said.

Very few of Moran's wells are now turning a profit because of the price plunge. It typically costs him more than $60 to pump a barrel of crude -- more than what the market is paying.

"It's scary. It's scary not only for our company but for our community," Moran said. "We may be losing money every month but we can survive. But so many companies cannot survive losing money every month."

Energy economist Bernard Weinstein at Southern Methodist University's Cox Business School said millions of jobs benefit from the oil and gas industry boom, but layoffs could be around the corner.

"If you're small, if you got into the business late, if you have a lot of debt, if you're highly leveraged, some of those companies are probably either going to go out of business or have to sell assets to stay alive," Weinstein said.

He said oil prices can tip the economy in either direction.

"I would say at the $60 price point, the positives for the economy outweigh the negatives," Weinstein said. "But if we go into a free fall, if we see prices below $50 or getting down to $40, I think that's a negative for the U.S. economy, and not only for the oil producing states."

City manager Steve Saxon is watching the effects of oil prices on the local economy and said he's very concerned.

"We're heavily dependent on sales tax. If people are not buying lumber or going out to eat, then our bottom line is impacted," Saxon said.

Half of Seminole's income comes either directly or indirectly from the oil industry. Now the city of Seminole has postponed some much-needed capital improvement projects -- a scene that's repeating itself in so many oil-dependent communities across the country.

More details on: cbsnews.com


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