Pump prices falling as vacation season winds down

Prices at gasoline stations across the country should keep dropping as travelers hit the road for late-summer trips.

The national average pump price has declined for 17 days in a row, reaching $2.682 for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline on Friday, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. The price is 6.3 cents lower than a month ago and about 6.2 cents higher than it was last year at this time.

Motorists in the West are paying the most for gas, ranging from $2.815 to $3.521 a gallon. The cheapest prices are in Texas, parts of the Midwest and the Gulf Coast area, where the range is $2.446 to $2.537 a gallon.

In Houston today, drivers paid an average of $2.482 a gallon, down from $2.491 Thursday.

The price pullback comes after a plunge in wholesale gasoline prices earlier this month continues to filter into the retail market. In addition, supplies of both oil and gasoline are plentiful, while overall demand for energy products remains lukewarm.

“There’s no question that after Labor Day, (the pump price) will drop off appreciably,” said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

Hamza Khan, an energy analyst with The Schork Report, expects the pump price to average around $2.30 a gallon by the end of September. It hasn’t been that low since May, 2009.

In other trading, oil and other energy prices were mixed after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called the economic outlook “inherently uncertain.”

His comments came shortly after the Commerce Department said the nation’s gross domestic product grew at a 1.6 percent annual rate from April to June, down from an initial estimate of 2.4 percent and much slower than the first quarter pace.

With many consumers worrying about high unemployment, the housing market and overall spending, an economic growth rate of less than 2 percent will do little to boost energy demand, MF Global energy analyst Mike Fitzpatrick said in a research note.

Benchmark crude for October delivery rose $1.81 to settle at $75.17 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Meanwhile, natural gas continued to slide as the contract for September delivery lost 16.6 cents to settle at $3.651 per 1,000 cubic feet. It reached a record low for the year of $3.610 earlier in the day.

With the September contract expiring Friday, many traders shifted to the October contract, where the price slipped 13.8 cents to settle at $3.705 per 1,000 cubic feet. That contract at one point in the session also hit a low for the year at $3.697.

In other Nymex trading in September contracts, heating oil added 3.51 cents to settle at $2.0443 a gallon and gasoline gained 3.94 cents to settle at $1.9479 a gallon.

In London, Brent crude rose $1.63 to settle at $76.65 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.