The global economic slowdown is expected to keep fuel prices relatively stable through most of 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In its March 10 Short-Term Energy Outlook, EIA reported that world oil consumption is projected to decline by almost 1.4 million barrels per day this year, and OPEC production is forecast to remain fairly flat for the next two years.

The price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil, which averaged $100/barrel in 2008, is projected to average $42/barrel this year. For 2010, when the global economic recovery is expected to begin, the forecast average price is $53/barrel.

ā€œIf economic growth in the U.S. and overseas rebounds sooner than expected, oil demand could experience stronger-than-expected growth and outpace production increases, leading to rising prices,ā€ EIA wrote.

On March 9, the price of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $1.94/gallon nationwide, down $1.28/gallon from the year-earlier figure. It's expected to average $1.96/gallon for the year and $2.18/gallon in 2010.

Retail on-highway diesel fuel prices averaged just over $2/gallon on March 9, $1.77 below the March 9, 2008, price. EIA reported that prices were highest in the New England states, at $2.43/gallon, and lowest in the Midwest, where the price averaged $1.98/gallon.