Friday October 19, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) -- Gaso line prices have begun their seasonal slide.

Better late than never, drivers say.

The national average retail price has fallen for 10 straight days and is now $3.74 per gallon. It could mark the beginning of the usual autumn decrease that was delayed this year because of refinery problems and high oil prices.

Tom Kloza, Chief Oil Analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, predicts drops of 5 cents to 15 cents per week for the next three weeks. Over the next several weeks the national average could be at or below where it was last year.

"There’s some nice relief coming," he said.

Gasoline prices typically decline in the fall as refiners switch to cheaper fuel blends and drivers take a break from road trips. This year a series of refinery and pipeline problems sent gasoline supplies plummeting. That sent wholesale gasoline buyers and traders scrambling to purchase whatever they could, at ever higher prices, to secure supply.

"It was a cluster of random coincidental events and the buying had a panic nature to it," Kloza said.

Gasoline prices were already steep -- they were on track to set an annual record by mid-summer -- because of relatively high global crude oil prices. Brent, the type of crude most important in determining the price of gasoline, has averaged $112 per barrel this year. Global oil demand is on track to set a record this year despite economic uncertainty.


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And the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program has raised fears that oil supplies could be disrupted if tensions escalate.

Against that backdrop, the nation’s gasoline infrastructure got slammed.

In August, ruptures to pipe lines that serve the Great Lakes and refinery outages in Indiana and Illinois sent gasoline prices higher in the Midwest. Then a fire at a refinery in Rich mond, Calif. crippled a major contributor to Cal ifornia’s gasoline supplies. Then Hurri cane Isaac forced several Gulf Coast refineries to shut or slow down operations.

As those refineries ramped back up, California saw more trouble. A pipeline that serves Bay Area refineries closed, two refineries were offline for maintenance and an Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery in Torrance, Calif., near Los Angeles shut down because of a surprise power outage.

The national average price topped out for the season at $3.87 on Sept. 14 and Calif ornia prices hit a record $4.67 per gallon on Oct. 7.