Relief at the pump is nigh and motorists should start seeing gas prices slip downward.
Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at Tampa-based GasBuddy.com, said wholesale prices went lower last week and although there is some lag time for that to transfer to consumers, prices should decline as early as today.
One reason for the reduction is refineries have switched to the winter blend, which has fewer additives than the summer blend. This switch typically drives prices down because it's cheaper to make, said Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA, The Auto Club Group in Tampa.
The bad news is the price at the pump is declining slowly and is still higher than it was this time last year.
As of Wednesday morning, AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report showed the national average price of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.756 a gallon, down from $3.813 a week ago. A year ago, the national average was $3.462.
In the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, prices Wednesday morning were averaging $3.636, down from $3.651 the previous day. The price was $3.347 this time last year. AAA does not track prices in the Lakeland-Winter Haven area.
The slow decline in gas prices, Laskoski said, has several reasons, including that some of the refineries have been operating below capacity, disruptions from Hurricane Isaac and last month's attack on the American Embassy in Libya that left four Americans dead.
Riots at American embassies all over the Middle East also caused the prices of crude oil to go up.
For the last several years, Laskoski said, gas prices have risen about 90 cents from whatever they were on the last day of the year.
"If the U.S. average is at $3.72 and we can't get down much lower, that is going to be very troubling for all consumers come spring time because it suggests that we will be well over $4 a gallon in April or May," he said.
But the refineries are now picking up, he said, and that increased supply should make a difference. Oil and gas prices could fall this week after the International Energy Agency cut global demand for the rest of this year and 2013 because of slow global economic growth. The expectation of little or no growth for the European economy could also cause a drop in demand and ultimately drive prices down.
"Barring any unforeseen events in the Middle East, I think we're at a time of the year when we're going to see Florida gas prices and national prices go down steadily over two to three months," Laskoski said.
Gasbuddy.com reports that areas such as the Great Lakes region, where wholesale gasoline prices are at their lowest since February, have already had reductions that will continue.
California, still dealing with high prices as a result of the explosion at one of its refineries, is seeing prices start to come down, albeit slowly.
But local consumers are grouchy about how much they still have to pay.
Bruce Leeks, a warehouse worker in Lakeland, said he hasn't noticed prices going lower. "I was expecting it to. You're better off catching the bus because it's so high," the 24-year- old said.
Mary Joe, 72 a retired Lakeland resident, said she's resigned to prices remaining high and consumers having no control over the situation.
"I'm not sure it needs to be that high. The gas companies are making a lot of money, but we don't get a break," she said. "We just have to accept what it is."
Despite the higher gas prices, Jenkins of AAA said there are ways to improve your gas mileage such as driving sensibly and not speeding. Proper tire inflation, he said, can increase miles per gallon by 3 percent, while routine basic maintenance including oil and filter changes can increase your mileage by up to 10 percent.
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