Consumers and travelers will get a break at the gas pump this weekend, at least compared to the past few Memorial Day holidays.
Over the past several years, gasoline prices have peaked just before the holiday that marks the unofficial start to the summer driving season. This year, however, prices have held relatively steady since early March and have inched downward over the past few weeks.
The Oklahoma City average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline settled at just less than $3.40 a gallon on Thursday — down more than a penny over the past week and almost a nickel over the past month, according to AAA’s www.fuelgaugereport.com. One year ago, the average price in Oklahoma City was almost $3.95.
Nationwide, the price reached almost $3.70 Tuesday, down almost two cents over the past week.
Lower prices and an earlier price drop could lead consumers to drive more this summer.
“This is certainly encouraging,” AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai said.
“I think more people will decide to take that long-delayed trip and might take it over this Memorial weekend.”
Nationwide, AAA has forecast that 36.1 million people will travel this weekend, up 1.7 percent from last year. In Oklahoma, about 621,000 people are expected to travel over the three-day weekend, up by 10,500 more than last year.
The annual gasoline price jump generally occurs as refiners shut down for at least two weeks every spring as they prepare to make cleaner-burning and more expensive summer-blend fuels. The process started much earlier this year.
Gasoline prices also have held steady in part because of increased domestic oil supplies. While gasoline prices tend to follow the international Brent crude price, domestic supply disruptions can cause fuel prices to jump.
If gasoline prices follow the patterns set over the past few years, prices are likely to stay near current prices or drop slightly throughout the summer.
“Barring any unforeseen calamities, I think we’ll see prices fall from here,” Mai said. “They may not fall a great deal, but I think prices will stay where they are or drive a little lower. If you can gauge anything from what history has taught us, that will happen unless things go dramatically south in the Middle East or refiners in this country blow up or catch fire or there is some other unforeseen catastrophe.”