RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Gas prices are cheaper these days, which has led to many more Americans taking a lot more road trips this summer. In fact, the U.S. is on the verge of breaking a record set nine years ago for consumption of gas. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The chance that the U.S. could break its record for gas consumption is a surprise, even to oil executives.
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REX TILLERSON: More gasoline demand in the United States peaked in 2007.
BRADY: That's Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson in 2009, when the industry thought it had reached the peak and was on a steady decline. Experts assumed that people would drive less, but no one planned for the last two years of low gas prices. Today, filling up a tank costs about 40 percent less than it did two summers back. That's changing how people travel. Taylor McCarthy is a student at Villanova University outside Philadelphia. This summer, she worked in Michigan and chose to drive her Jeep Cherokee rather than fly.
TAYLOR MCCARTHY: I calculated that it would take about a full tank and a quarter for me to get from Michigan back to Philadelphia. That's around like 30, 35 bucks.
BRADY: Compared to what for a flight?
MCCARTHY: I saw 120 - was the cheapest flight that I saw.
BRADY: In June, Americans drove more than 280 billion miles, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That's up 3 percent from last year. Tom Kloza with the Oil Price Information Service says evidence is mounting that a new gas demand record could be set this year, but he's not ready to predict that yet. So far, he's setting odds at 50-50.
TOM KLOZA: Because the one thing that you do see happen after a brisk driving season like this - and particularly in an election year - September, October, November, people will drive less.
BRADY: We'll know more this week, when the Department of Energy releases gas consumption numbers for June. But even if that 2007 record holds, we can still say cheap prices have at least temporarily reversed the trend of Americans using less gasoline. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.