CONSUMER ALERT: Gas Prices Drifting Lower As Pipeline Re-Opens - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

CONSUMER ALERT: Gas Prices Drifting Lower As Pipeline Re-Opens

USATODAY.COM - Motorists across the country are starting to see retail gasoline prices decline again, after the unexpected closing of a key Midwest pipeline and hurricane threats pushed them up a few pennies earlier this month.

The national average for unleaded regular gas was $2.726 a gallon on Monday, down about half a cent overnight. It's still nearly a penny higher than a month ago, when the summer driving season was nearing an end, according to AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service. The average pump price was 17.5 cents a gallon lower a year ago.

Most analysts expect prices to continue to fall in the weeks ahead as demand continues to decline with the arrival of fall.

"The whole retail system has just been pretty stable all summer and into this fall period," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates. He said the retail market typically doesn't respond much unless wholesale gasoline futures contracts move a dime either way.

Retail gasoline prices rose last week after Enbridge Energy Partners closed a leaking pipeline that delivered 670,000 barrels of oil a day to Midwestern refineries. That created some concerns about supplies for those facilities even though gasoline inventories remain 14% above the five-year average.

After the pipeline was reopened Friday, prices began to fall. Chicago-area motorists paid an average of $3.024 a gallon Monday, down from $3.029 a gallon a week ago.

Drivers in Illinois and the West paid the highest prices Monday, ranging from $2.834 to $3.516 a gallon while those in Texas, parts of the Midwest and the South had the cheapest prices.

Threats of tropical storms and hurricanes that may head toward the Gulf of Mexico and disrupt production have also kept gasoline prices up, according to PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn.

"There's still a risk to supply because the storms just keep coming one after another and so the market is a little hesitant to get excited on downside," he said. "We're getting all these outside influences that have been keeping prices from falling."

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