As the annual hurricane season opens today, gasoline prices continue to slip in most of the country - a respite that should last for the rest of the month if weather and refinery equipment cooperate, energy industry experts said.
Gasoline prices began rising more than two months ago as oil prices increased, gas supplies shrank and refiners in parts of the nation made a difficult transition to the fuel additive ethanol. At the same time, refiner profits jumped.
Now, most U.S. refineries have returned to full production after an unusually lengthy maintenance period, and ethanol distribution difficulties in Texas and the East Coast largely have been resolved.
Nationally, the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline fell 2.5 cents in the week ended Monday, to $2.867, the Energy Department said yesterday.
Experts said motorists shouldn't expect a significant decline in oil or gasoline prices this summer because of two potentially supply-squeezing forces: the traditional summer car trip, which boosts demand, and what is predicted to be an active hurricane season, which could reduce oil and fuel production in the key Gulf Coast region.