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Relief finally coming at the U.S. gas pump

Barring any unexpected disruptions, retail gas prices could tick lower for the rest of the year.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Relief finally coming at the U.S. gas pump
Motor club AAA said retail gasoline prices are finally starting to move steadily lower as 2016 winds down. File Photo by hxdbzxy/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Seasonal trends are finally catching up with U.S. commuters who are starting to see a steady decline in gasoline prices, motor club AAA said in a market report.

The motor club reports a national average retail price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline at $2.16, a slight decline from Monday and about 2 percent less than one week ago. According to AAA, the price at the pump has dropped for 11 straight days.

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"Historically, gasoline demand tends to decline during the month of November, and with the autumn refinery maintenance season nearing completion, pump prices are expected to move lower to close out the year, barring any unanticipated outages or supply disruptions," AAA said in a weekly retail market report.

Refineries in September start switching over to a winter blend of gasoline, which because of fewer processes needed to protect the environment during cooler months is less expensive to make. That switch usually benefits consumers, but a series of issues with pipelines and refineries, coupled with two hurricanes, has kept the seasonal decline in prices at bay.

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AAA said most of the issues with refineries have been resolved and, now that the Colonial pipeline in the U.S. southeast was back in service, most regions were seeing prices at the pump move lower.

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The Great Lakes states, which are collectively the most volatile market in the country, posted the largest weekly declines in gasoline prices over the past week, with Indiana prices moving lower by 14 cents per gallon. Despite lingering refinery problems in the area, Ohio and Indiana hold the distinction of having some of the cheapest gasoline prices in the country.

States near the East Coast now hold the honor of having some of the highest retail gas prices, with Pennsylvania and New York moving into the Top 10. Refinery problems there are getting resolved, however, and the Colonial pipeline, the largest in the region, is back in service.

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"Pump prices in the regions should continue to drop heading into the holiday season," AAA reported.

The drop in retail gasoline prices also reflects dynamics for crude oil, with the price for the international benchmark Brent dipping below the $45 per barrel mark in recent trading. Retail prices for gasoline may start to reflect volatility in crude oil, however, as investors watch for any signs that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries can cut a deal on production levels by the end of the month.

OPEC members are considering a cap on production to push markets back into balance.

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RELATED OPEC volatility spilling over to consumer gas prices

"Global crude oil supply continues to outpace demand, which for now is keeping a ceiling on prices," AAA said.

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