NEW YORK — Gasoline prices have begun their seasonal slide.
Better late than never, drivers say.
The national average retail price has fallen for 10 straight days and is now $3.74 per gallon. It could mark the beginning of the usual autumn decrease that was delayed this year because of refinery problems and high oil prices.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, predicts drops of 5 cents to 15 cents per week for the next three weeks. Over the next several weeks the national average could be at or below where it was last year.
"There's some nice relief coming," he said.
It can't come soon enough for Mary Hess, who commutes 40 miles each way from her home in Sodus Point, N.Y., to Oswego, N.Y., where she teaches English. She hasn't noticed much of a drop — she's still paying $4.04 per gallon to fill up her Buick Century. Gasoline is among the biggest parts of her budget — and she doesn't think it should be.
"I'm frustrated more than anything," she said.
Gasoline prices typically decline in the fall as refiners switch to cheaper fuel blends and drivers take a break from road trips. This year a series of refinery and pipeline problems sent gasoline supplies plummeting. That sent wholesale gasoline buyers and traders scrambling to purchase whatever they could, at ever higher prices, to secure supply.
"It was a cluster of random coincidental events and the buying had a panic nature to it," Kloza said.
Gasoline prices were already steep — they were on track to set an annual record by mid-summer — because of relatively high global crude oil prices. Brent, the type of crude most important in determining the price of gasoline, has averaged $112 per barrel this year. Global oil demand is on track to set a record this year despite economic uncertainty. And the standoff over Iran's nuclear program has raised fears that oil supplies could be disrupted if tensions escalate.