Drivers getting a break at the gas pump

Average could fall below $3 a gallon

Gas prices at the pump are falling markedly all around the country, and the Washington area could soon join the growing number of states where the average price of gas is less than $3 a gallon, a level not seen in two years.

Nationwide, the price of gas has fallen 16 cents in the past month to $3.19 a gallon, according to AAA, which forecasts that the price of gas could continue dropping to as low as $3.10 on average around the country by the end of the year. Last year at this time, gas cost an average of $3.44 a gallon.

Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi are seeing some of the most pronounced price-cutting, with the average price in all eight of these states less than $3 a gallon, according to the website Gas Buddy.

Inside the Beltway, gas prices have fallen 10 cents to $3.22 in the past month with the cheapest gas found in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, according to AAA. Last year at this time, gas was $3.45 a gallon in the area.

“We’re seeing some of the cheapest gas prices since 2011,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend. “That’s an encouraging sign. I think gas prices will continue to fall even through Christmas and Thanksgiving. We’re going to see some really competitive gas prices.”

Mr. Townsend points out that around the country 2012 was the most expensive year on record to buy gas in America, so in comparison, the gas prices this year are much cheaper.

Separately, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is predicting a more modest decrease — falling from an average of $3.50 per gallon in 2013 to $3.39 per gallon in 2014. The highest gas prices in the country are found in Hawaii at $3.94 a gallon, while the highest pump prices in the continental United States are in California at $3.57 a gallon.

Part of the reason gas prices are down are because Americans are driving less, Mr. Townsend explained. “The summer’s over, people are back to work, kids are back in school, so families aren’t traveling as much,” he said.

Gas stations are also switching to their winter blend of gasoline, which is cheaper to produce because it doesn’t have as many additives that prevent pollution as the summer mix does. Some U.S. refiners, viewing the boom in shale oil in the Midwest, are producing more diesel fuel for markets abroad, which has the side effect of producing more gasoline available for the domestic market as well.

But the biggest reason may be that 2013 has been one of the slowest years in decades for hurricanes, and natural disasters tend to take a toll on the supply of crude oil, which raises the price gas.

In the greater Washington market, gas is the most expensive in the District, where the average price has fallen to $3.35 a gallon within the city limits, well above the national average.

“Drivers in the District have the worst gas prices in the region,” Mr. Townsend said.

Still, gas prices have fallen 5 cents in the past week and 14 cents in the past month. During this time last year, the price of gas was $3.57 a gallon.

Drivers hunting for a bargain can find the cheapest gas within the city’s limits at the new Costco off New York Avenue in Northeast, where they can fill up their cars for as little as $3.09 a gallon.

Mr. Townsend, who fills up his car at Costco, believes that gas station may dip below $3 within the next few weeks, which could encourage nearby stations to do the same.

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