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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. gasoline inventories have dropped to their lowest level since 1967 after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut Gulf Coast oil refineries, causing some supply shortages at service stations, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday.
Five oil refineries with a total capacity of 1.231 million barrels a day remained shut since Ike idled 14 plants, or a quarter of the nation's refined fuel production, nearly two weeks ago, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The closed refineries have caused a drawdown in existing fuel inventories to help meet demand.
U.S. gasoline stocks fell 5.9 million barrels last week to just under 179 million barrels, down almost 19 million barrels from a year ago, according to the EIA.
There were long lines at service stations in some southern cities to get fuel, and some retail outlets, including those in Atlanta and Memphis, have run out of supplies.
Since Gustav struck at the beginning of the month, 52 million barrels of refining have been cut on the Gulf Coast, according to Reuters data.
"Continuing reports of spot shortages of gasoline at some retail outlets where supplies have been most disrupted can be expected over the next several weeks," the EIA said in its weekly review of the oil market.
To help ensure adequate supplies and ease pump prices, the Environmental Protection Agency late on Tuesday waived federal clean air requirements for gasoline sold in Atlanta and surrounding counties in Georgia.
Gasoline prices nationwide have dropped as more refineries resumed operations. The EIA said retail gasoline costs may fall to $3.50 per gallon, "if not lower," by the end of the year as long as there are no further supply disruptions.
Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Marguerita Choy