Gas prices down ahead of summer driving season

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Gasoline prices have been trending downward since Memorial Day, just as regular summer travel begins to pick up, according to groups that monitor price trends at the pump.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the national average gas price as of Tuesday was $2.81 per gallon, which is two cents cheaper than last week, eight cents less than last month and 13 cents less than last year.

In Madison County, price monitoring website Gasbuddy.com reported prices Tuesday morning from $2.45 per gallon in Madisonville to $2.69 a gallon in North Zulch. Prices in nearby Huntsville hovered around $2.35 a gallon and Bryan had gasoline prices as low as $2.31 per gallon.

Gas prices normally rise during summer, with higher anticipated demand as people hit the road for summer travels. And people aren’t staying home this year.

According to Gasbuddy’s annual summer travel survey, nearly 75% of Americans said they will take a road trip this summer, a 16% increase from last year, while 38% cited high gas prices for impacting their summer travel decisions, nearly the same as 2018’s gas price sentiment.

“For many Americans, this spring has pinched pocketbooks at a dizzying rate, but that still won’t hold back many from hitting the road for the 90 days or so of prime summer weather,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “While the rise in prices has been steep this spring, perhaps the most important factor is that in many places, gas prices are still well below their all-time highs and perhaps even more importantly, over 50% of the nation’s gas stations are selling at $2.99 per gallon or less, and that's a key ingredient in the recipe for many Americans to hit the road again this summer.”

But AAA said domestic stockpiles rose last month, so higher supplies are fending off demand.

“In the run-up to a busy Memorial Day weekend, refineries across the country boosted their crude utilization rate to 91.2% — a significant increase to a spring season which has seen utilization in the 86-88% range, mostly due to unexpected and planned maintenance,” AAA said in a report. “With summer road trips poised to drive higher gas demand rates, increased gasoline stocks will play an important role in helping to keep pump prices in most states under the $3 per gallon mark during the busy driving season.”

The Energy Information Administration reported U.S. stockpiles of gasoline rose in the last week to 230 million barrels, still four million barrels short of the similar timeframe last year.

AAA studies also say that Florida is benefitting most from dropping gas prices, shedding 23 cents at the pump in the past month, though the South and Southeastern U.S. feature the lowest overall prices anyway. Texas gas prices have dropped five cents in the last week.

The study also states:

* The nation’s top 10 least expensive markets are: Mississippi ($2.39), Louisiana ($2.39), Alabama ($2.41), South Carolina ($2.43), Arkansas ($2.46), Texas ($2.48), Tennessee ($2.48), Missouri ($2.53), Virginia ($2.54) and Oklahoma ($2.55).

* The nation’s top 10 largest monthly decreases are: Florida (-23 cents), Delaware (-16 cents), Georgia (-15 cents), California (-14 cents), North Carolina (-14 cents), Louisiana (-13 cents), Mississippi (-13 cents), Texas (-13 cents), Tennessee (-12 cents) and South Carolina (-11 cents).

The westernmost states are the hardest hit in the U.S., with average prices well over $3 per gallon. California had an average price Tuesday of $3.938.

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