Despite continued unrest in the Middle East and other parts of the world, gasoline prices have plummeted over the past month, with at least five metro-area retailers selling fuel for less than $3 a gallon Thursday.
The citywide average price dipped to $3.25 Thursday, down 9.4 cents over the past week and 27 cents over the past month, according to gasbuddy.com.
Nationwide, the price has been going in the same direction, but more slowly. The county’s average price for a gallons of regular unleaded gasoline settled at $3.54 Thursday, down four pennies over the past week and almost 12 cents over the past month.
Gasoline prices typically are most heavily influenced by gasoline supplies and crude oil prices, both of which have been trending in favor of consumers over the past few weeks.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil, which is priced in Cushing, settled at $101.98 Thursday. While most people wouldn’t consider the price low, it is down $1.14 on the day and down almost $6 since fighting stepped up again in Iraq.
At the same time, the country’s refiners are running at record levels, at or near capacity with little or no disruption. Refinery inputs hit a record-high 16.8 million barrels per day in each of the past two weeks. The previous record was set in 2005.
“This is a very good sign for consumers,” GasBuddy analyst Gregg Laskowski said. “Any time you have strong numbers at refineries, it is an indication that gasoline prices are likely to be moving down.”
The downward trend could continue. The country is nearing the end of the summer driving season and will soon enter the fall, when prices tend to hold flat or trend downward.
The price trend is in line with previous projections.
Gasoline averaged $3.49 nationwide last year. GasBuddy forecast at the beginning of the year that this year’s average would be about 10 cents lower.
“I think the figures we’re seeing today will likely carry us through the second half of the year,” Laskowski said “I think we will be on track with that projection, showing that most Americans overall are paying less for gas this year.”
While the trend looks good for consumers, disruptions are always possible.
Unexpected refinery outages or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could cause the country quickly to burn through the excess supply, or a sharp spike in crude oil prices could push gasoline prices higher.
“But barring these types of events, we’re likely to see prices move incrementally lower,” Laskowski said.