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Volatility at the gas pump expected following attacks in Saudi Arabia

Motorists can expect volatility at the gas pump in the coming days and weeks following the drone attacks in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, AAA Oklahoma said.

Attacks were on two major oil facilities, including the world’s largest, Abqaiq. The attacks have taken 5.7 million (crude) barrels per day off the market, accounting for about 6% of the global supply, AAA said.

The U.S. and international benchmarks for crude each vaulted more than 14%. That’s comparable to the 14.5% spike in oil prices on Aug. 6, 1990, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil soared $8.05 to settle at $62.90 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, jumped $8.80 to close at $69.02 a barrel.

Prior to the attacks, global crude oil supply was healthy, in fact sitting on a global glut of stock, AAA Oklahoma said.

Oklahoma motorists are paying an average of $2.28 a gallon at the pump, the eighth least expensive in the nation. This is up 3 cents from last week, ahead of the attacks.

“Americans can expect local pump prices to start to increase this week. The jump could end up being as much as a quarter per gallon throughout this month,” said AAA Oklahoma spokeswoman Leslie Gamble.

“Whether this is a short- or long-term trend will be determined by the price of crude oil prices and how quickly the facilities in Saudi Arabia can recover and get back online.”

Damage to the facilities is still being assessed, but there is no word on whether it will be days, weeks or even months before infrastructure is repaired.

To ease concerns, President Donald Trump said he authorized the release of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Other Saudi-oil-consuming countries also have emergency reserves to help back-fill the global loss if needed.

The U.S. currently depends less on crude imports from Saudi Arabia. The latest Energy Information Administration report showed that the U.S. imported the least amount of crude oil from Saudi Arabia this decade. In the first half of this year, on average the U.S. imported about 18,000 barrels, compared to 35,600 barrels in the first half of 2017.

While U.S. gasoline stock levels have been decreasing the past few weeks, total domestic stocks sit at 228 million barrels, which is ahead of the five-year average for this time of year by several million barrels. Monday’s national gas price average is 7 cents cheaper than last month and 28 cents cheaper than this time last year.

But the gaps are likely to shrink as the market adjusts to the news and crude oil prices increase, AAA said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Trump: It looks like Iran hit Saudis, no military option yet

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Monday it “looks” like Iran was behind the explosive attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. But he stressed that military retaliation was not yet on the table in response to the strike against a key U.S. Mideast ally.

Oil prices soared worldwide amid the damage in Saudi Arabia and fresh Middle East war concerns. But Trump put the brakes on any talk of quick military action — earlier he had said the U.S. was “locked and loaded” — and he said the oil impact would not be significant on the U.S., which is a net energy exporter.

The Saudi government called the attack an “unprecedented act of aggression and sabotage” but stopped short of directly pinning blame on Iran.

Iran denied involvement.

Trump, who has repeatedly stressed avoiding new Middle East wars, seemed intent on preserving room to maneuver in a crisis that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had immediately called Iran’s fault. Pompeo said Saturday, “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

Trump, too, had talked more harshly at first. But by Monday afternoon he seemed intent on consultations with allies.

“That was an attack on Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“It wasn’t an attack on us, but we would certainly help them,” he said, noting a decades-long alliance linked to U.S. oil dependence that has lessened in recent years. The U.S. has no treaty obligation to defend Saudi Arabia.

Trump said he was sending Pompeo to Saudi Arabia “to discuss what they feel” about the attack and an appropriate response.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the U.S. was considering dispatching additional military resources to the Gulf but that no decisions had been made. The U.S. already has the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group in the area, as well as fighter jets, bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and air defenses.

Trump, alternating between aggressive and nonviolent reactions, said the U.S. could respond “with an attack many, many times larger” but also “I’m not looking at options right now.”

American officials released satellite images of the damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial Abqaiq oil processing plant and a key oil field, and two U.S. officials said the attackers used multiple cruise missiles and drone aircraft.

Private experts said the satellite images show the attackers had detailed knowledge of which tanks and machinery to hit within the sprawling Saudi oil processing facility at Abqaiq to cripple production. But “satellite imagery can’t show you where the attack originated from,” said Joe Bermudez, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who examined the images.

“What the photos indicate is that someone planned a sophisticated, coordinated attack that really impacted the production of oil at this facility,” he said.

The U.S. alleges the pattern of destruction suggested Saturday’s attack did not come from neighboring Yemen, as claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there. A Saudi military alleged “Iranian weapons” had been used.

The Saudis invited United Nations and other international experts to help investigate, suggesting there was no rush to retaliate.

Jon Alterman, the chief Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Saudi caution reflects the kingdom’s wariness of taking on Iran.

“I don’t think there’s a great independent Saudi capability to respond,” he said. “You don’t want to start a war with Iran that you don’t have an idea how you’re going to end.”

In New York, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, condemned the attack and said that “emerging information indicates that responsibility lies with Iran.”

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper suggested Iranian involvement, too. In a series of tweets after meeting with Trump and other senior national security officials, Esper said the administration was working with partner nations “to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran.”

Iran rejected the allegations, and a government spokesman said there now is “absolutely no chance” of a hoped-for meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Trump at the U.N. General Assembly next week.

“Currently we don’t see any sign from the Americans which has honesty in it, and if the current state continues there will be absolutely no chance of a meeting between the two presidents,” spokesman Ali Rabiei said.

Downplaying any talk of imminent U.S. military action, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, told reporters at the White House that Trump’s “locked and loaded” was “a broad term that talks about the realities that” the U.S. is “safer and more secure domestically from energy independence.”

The new violence has led to fears that further action on any side could rapidly escalate a confrontation that’s been raging just below the surface in the wider Persian Gulf in recent months. There already have been mysterious attacks on oil tankers that Washington blames on Tehran, at least one suspected Israeli strike on Shiite forces in Iraq, and the downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone by Iran.

Those tensions have increased ever since Trump pulled the U.S. out of Iran’s 2015 agreement with world powers that curtailed Iranian nuclear activities and the U.S. re-imposed sanctions that sent Iran’s economy into freefall.

The weekend attack halted production of 5.7 million barrels of crude a day, more than half of Saudi Arabia’s global daily exports and more than 5% of the world’s daily crude oil production.

The U.S. and international benchmarks for crude each vaulted more than 14%, comparable to the 14.5% spike in oil on Aug. 6, 1990, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

U.S. stocks were down but only modestly. Major stock indexes in Europe also fell. Markets in Asia finished mixed.

At a news conference, Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said, “All the indications and operational evidence, and the weapons that were used in the terrorist attack, whether in Buqayq or Khurais, indicate with initial evidence that these weapons are Iranian weapons.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, while expressing “grave concern” about the attack, warned against putting the blame on Iran, saying that plans of military retaliation against Iran would be unacceptable.

Tulsa's parks director explains city's move to appraise golf courses with no intent to sell yet

The city of Tulsa has contracted with a private firm to appraise the two courses at Page Belcher Golf Course, 6666 S. Union Ave., but has no intent to sell the properties for commercial development, Parks Director Anna America said Monday.

“My hope would be that somebody would come to us and say, ‘Why, we would love to run a public golf course here, and we’re going to take great care of it, and everyone is going to love it,” America said. “And they would pay the appraised value, and we could take that money and put it somewhere else.”

America said that since becoming parks director last year, she has heard all kinds of suggestions and rumors and direct inquiries about the golf course properties but that the city has no interest in developing the land for commercial purposes.

“But in order to ever have those discussions with people, you’ve got to get the appraisal to know where you’re starting,” she said.

America acknowledged, however, that one proposal presented to the city called for developing the section of the Page Belcher course south of 71st Street to help fund improvements to the golf course property north of 71st Street.

Such development, which she stressed is nothing more than a vague concept at this point, would be “very, very, very tightly scrutinized,” by the mayor, the Park Board and the City Council before it could become a reality.

“I don’t see anybody saying, ‘We’ll just sell you the property and do whatever you want,’ ” America said. “I don’t think that’s something that is going to be on anybody’s agenda ever.”

The city has four 18-hole courses — Olde Page and Stone Creek at Page Belcher and two at Mohawk Park Golf Course, 5223 E. 41st St. North.

The Page Belcher golf course property north of 71st Street comprises all 18 holes of Olde Page and holes 1-10 and 18 of Stone Creek; the property south of 71st Street comprises holes 11 through 17 of Stone Creek.

The future of the city’s four golf courses became a subject of public discussion earlier this summer when golf advocates questioned why the city had not included specific funding for the facilities in its latest capital improvements package.

The proposed $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal calls for spending $30 million on parks but makes no specific allocation for the golf courses. Mayor G.T. Bynum initially explained the omission by saying the golf courses had not made the cut.

“Are we going to have kids using unsafe playground equipment or fire trucks that are breaking down so that we can fix up golf courses?” Bynum said to the Tulsa World. “It isn’t as high a priority as those things, and that is why it is not in the program.”

He later said golf advocates had misunderstood the Improve Our Tulsa proposal and that the golf courses could receive some of the funding allocated for parks.

“I think because the golf course folks didn’t see it as a line item, they thought the golf courses were totally excluded, and that is not the case,” Bynum said.

The city’s golf courses have been operated and managed by Billy Casper Golf since 2008. In fiscal year 2017, the golf courses lost approximately $170,000 on revenues of $2.8 million. In 2018, the golf courses lost approximately $252,000 on revenues of nearly $2.6 million.

In the city’s current fiscal year budget — which is separate from the proposed Improve Our Tulsa renewal package — the city is providing the golf courses $167,000 in operational and short-term capital funding.

The city recently increased this fiscal year’s funding for the golf courses, America said, adding $252,000 for four mowers.

With the additional funding, the city has now put twice as much into the courses’ operations budget as it did last fiscal year, America said.

Golf enthusiasts argue that the city has failed to maintain the courses at the same level it does its other public investments, leading inevitably to worse conditions and fewer golfers. City officials say they have done the best they can under the constraints of the city’s budget and note that the Tulsa area has an abundance of public golf courses that likely contributes to the decline in rounds played at the city’s courses.

America joined City Councilor Jeannie Cue last month at a public meeting at which they encouraged golf enthusiasts to consider creating a private golfing committee to help advocate for and raise money on behalf of the city’s golf courses.

America said Monday that the proposal is still a good one, noting that a private group advocating for the city’s golf courses would be helpful regardless of who’s operating them.

“Any time you’ve got members of the public who are engaged and are willing to give time and energy toward helping solve a problem, man, let’s take advantage of that,” she said.

She stressed that the city’s decision to get golf course appraisals is just one part of a long-term process to evaluate the city’s options and that no decisions on the future of the courses would be made until there has been extensive public engagement.

The bottom line, she said, is to determine what the city of Tulsa wants and then “just be straightforward and say this is what it is going to take to do that and own that and come up with a plan behind that.”

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Pardon and Parole Board discusses implementation of new criminal justice reform

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board could potentially consider hundreds of inmates who are eligible for an accelerated commutation process under a recent criminal justice reform measure.

Staff at the Pardon and Parole Board are working with the Department of Corrections to ensure a single-stage commutation docket mandated by a new law will be implemented with “excellence” and “urgency,” Steven Bickley, executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board said Monday.

The cross agency collaboration has truly been amazing,” Bickley said during a Pardon and Parole Board business meeting in Oklahoma City. “... Everyone has rallied around making this happen.”

Read the full story online at Oklahoman.com. (Some stories require a subscription.)