Gustav Could Send Gas Prices Souring

HOUSTON (AP) - The brief respite for consumers at the gasoline pump may come to an abrupt end if Tropical Storm Gustav slams into the petroleum-rich Gulf Coast and its numerous refineries.

Gustav was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm today after moving over Haiti, but forecasters expect it to regain strength and move into the Gulf of Mexico in a few days.

Oil companies with operations in the Gulf began removing nonessential workers from rigs, platforms and other facilities this morning, and refiners were preparing too.  There have been some minor production cuts, but so far, output has largely been unaffected.

Still, oil prices spiked more than $2 to above $118 a barrel, rising for a third day as Gustav spun toward the Gulf. Its approach is just days before the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which along with Hurricane Rita devastated the region's energy infrastructure.

The U.S. Gulf Coast is home to nearly half the nation's refining capacity, while offshore the Gulf accounts for about 25 percent of domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.