Nationwide, gasoline prices are on a summer slide, giving U.S. drivers a break as they set out for the beach and other vacation spots for the Fourth of July.
The national average for a gallon has fallen for 21 days straight and is now below $3.50 for the first time since February. The reason: Oil prices have been relatively stable, and refineries are turning out more gasoline after finishing spring maintenance.
The drop may be interrupted temporarily because oil prices spiked Wednesday on fears that the turmoil in Egypt would disrupt the flow of crude in the Mideast. Analysts, however, don’t expect a sharp increase at the pump because global oil supplies are ample and U.S. refineries are producing plenty of gas.
Gas prices in Toledo have risen this week, although they are below the national average.
The average price of gasoline in the United States has dipped below $3.50 since February. Here’s how much gasoline has cost going into the Fourth of July holiday over the last five years:
■ July 3, 2013: $3.48 per gallon
■ July 3, 2012: $3.33 per gallon
■ July 3, 2011: $3.56 per gallon
■ July 3, 2010: $2.74 per gallon
■ July 3, 2009: $2.63 per gallon
Source: AAA, OPIS, and Wright Express
The average price for regular unleaded in the Toledo area Wednesday was $3.42 a gallon, up about eight cents from Tuesday and 30 cents higher than a week earlier, according to gasbuddy.com.
A month ago, the average price in Toledo was above $3.80.
The national average price of a gallon Wedesday was $3.48, according to the American Automobile Association, Oil Price Information Service, and Wright Express. That is 16 cents below its post-Memorial Day high of $3.64 on June 10.
For much of the nation, the slide has been gradual. But for some drivers, especially in the Midwest, it has been a roller-coaster ride. Prices shot up early last month because of refinery-maintenance work and a fire then plunged after the refineries ramped back up.
Patrick Francis, who owns a used-car lot in Toledo, filled up his Volvo for $2.89 per gallon over the weekend as he was preparing to go to Hilton Head, N.C. Just three weeks earlier, he was paying more than $4.
“I feel blessed,” he said. “It’s like a miracle.”
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at GasBuddy.com, predicted the national average will hover between $3.30 and $3.60 for the rest of the summer. That would be somewhat lower than the last two summers, when prices spent part of the season above $3.70 per gallon.
Oil prices shot up Wednesday above $101 per barrel, the highest since May, 2012, as the crisis in Egypt deepened. Egypt is not a major oil producer but controls the Suez Canal, a major shipping lane for Middle Eastern crude. Prices could rise quickly if the Mideast unrest disrupts oil supplies.
This year’s early summer drop, while welcome, is smaller than the seasonal drops of the last two years, when prices also fell between Memorial Day and Independence Day. Gasoline is 15 cents more than it was last year at this time.
Gas prices typically rise in late winter or early spring when refineries perform maintenance and switch from making winter gasoline blends to the more complex summer blends required by clean-air rules. When refineries aren’t at full strength, supplies drop and prices rise. When maintenance is finished, output rises and prices fall.