Motorists are finally catching a break: Gasoline prices are falling and are expected to drop even lower in the weeks ahead.
The national average for a gallon of gas has dropped 13 cents in the last week to $3.625. That's the biggest weekly decline since the seven-day period ended Nov. 28, 2008, according to Oil Price Information Services analyst Fred Rozell.
In the Altoona area, the price of regular unleaded gasoline hit $3.99 per gallon in late March, dropped to $3.21 in early July, rose back to $3.99 in mid-September before starting to fall again, according to AAA East Central.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Sandy Robbins of Osterburg fills up Friday afternoon at the 17th Street and Pleasant Valley Boulevard Sheetz.
There are several reasons for the recent drop in price.
"Gasoline prices are related to the cost of crude oil. The price of crude oil has been going down because of global economic concerns and the price of gasoline goes down with it," said Ted Leonard, executive director of Pennsylvania AAA Federation. "Another factor is we see less travel this time of year; we are past the summer vacation season."
Timothy Hess, petroleum analyst for Washington, D.C.-based Energy Information Administration, cited two other reasons for the drop in gasoline prices.
"We've also had a move to winter grade. When we hit October, you get about a 10 cent decrease in the price, but that is not the same every year," Hess said. "You also have some refineries starting to put gas back into the market such as the Trainer Refinery outside of Philadelphia. That has added some gasoline back into the market since late September and early October."
Tom Martin, president of Martin Oil Co., Bellwood, said supply is up and demand is down.
"The economy appears to be bottoming out or leveling off. Prices will come down in the United States," Martin said. "I think with the increased use of natural gas, as more natural gas is used that means less oil."
The price of gasoline is expected to keep dropping.
"Our folks are predicting that by Thanksgiving, the national average will drop to $3.25 to $3.40," Leonard said. "It was $3.32 at Thanksgiving Day last year."
"We will see prices decrease a little as we move through the fourth quarter. EIA sees the crude oil market easing in the fourth quarter," Hess said. "We expect prices on the East Coast to average about $3.50 by December. Now it is $3.70. It may be a little higher or lower in some areas. Across the region we expect the prices to drop another 20 cents per gallon by the end of the year."
Martin said he is not sure what will happen.
"I don't know how low they may go. I don't know of any reason to start heading back up," Martin said. "The price is subject to manipulation on the stock market: you don't know what game those guys are going to play."
Even though prices are dropping, gasoline is still more expensive than it's ever been for this time of year. The previous record for Oct. 23 was last year's $3.46 per gallon.
Rozell said gasoline has averaged $3.65 so far this year, 10 cents above the record set in 2011.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.