Gasoline prices have dipped slightly as the busiest summer driving weekend, Independence Day, is about to begin.
The average price for regular gasoline stood at $3.56 a gallon Tuesday in Palm Beach County, down five cents from a week ago, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge report. Prices haven’t been this low since early February.
While the downward trend is encouraging, a year ago the county’s average was $3.30 a gallon. Florida’s average was $3.44, down from $3.50 a week ago and up from $3.18 a year ago.
AAA said multiple factors placed upward pressure on oil prices, but the jump in the value of the U.S. dollar and the increase in refinery output kept crude oil prices at bay last week.
Tuesday, oil prices inched past $99 a barrel for the second time this year, as traders anticipate a sharp drop in U.S. supplies and watch developments in Egypt, the Associated Press reported. Protests continued as President Mohammed Morsi faced a military ultimatum that gives him until Wednesday to meet the demands of those who want him ousted.
AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady called it an anomaly that gasoline prices are declining now in spite of factors, such as increased tensions in the Middle East and increased demand for gasoline, that are putting upward pressure on oil prices.
Prices since June 1 have followed a similar decline to last year’s gas prices during the same time, she said. Last year prices rose in August.
“We are going to see prices stay, from a national perspective, around $3.50 for the holiday weekend. Once we get past July, we are going to see prices go back up,” Brady said.
Florida is benefiting from refineries operating full speed ahead in the Gulf Coast region, but of course if a hurricane is headed that way, they have to shut down.
“Florida gas prices are pretty stable right now. One of the reasons is that we are seeing tremendous output from the Gulf Coast refineries,” said Gregg Laskoski, Tampa-based senior petroleum analyst, GasBuddy.com.
The latest weekly report from the Energy Information Administration showed that the nation’s refineries are operating overall at 90 percent capacity, but the Gulf Coast refineries are at 93 percent, Laskoski said.
“It is a very strong figure, especially when we look at the fact that a year ago the national numbers, through May, June, July and August, never got above 93 percent,” Laskoski said.
“What we have seen over the last six months has really been volatility focused on other parts of the country,” Laskoski said. “We had tremendous volatility in California and also in the Great Lakes region, and it has been due to specific refinery problems. These problems appear to have been resolved.”