Houston dodges the $4 bullet

We got close, but the refining capital of the U.S. appears to have just missed reaching that dubious milestone of $4 per gallon average gasoline prices. From the AP:

Florencio Blanco of Houston pumps gas at a station owned by Petroleum Wholesale, operating under the name Sunmart, on the 9400 block of the North Freeway in Houston. Dozens of stations owned by the company are “cheating drivers” on gasoline, according to the Texas Agriculture Commissioner. (Sharon Steinmann / Chronicle )

IRVING — Gasoline prices in Texas this week reflected the recent drop in the price of crude oil.
AAA Texas reported a 9-cent decline in the average retail cost of regular self-serve gas, which settled at $3.90 per gallon, according to figures updated early today.
Nationally, the average price for self-serve regular slipped 11 cents, to $4 per gallon, the weekly survey found.
In Houston today, the average price is $3.88 per gallon, which is an 8-cent drop from the high point recorded on July 17 ($3.96). A gallon of self-serve regular sold for an average of $2.80 here one year ago, according to the survey.
Corpus Christi had the least expensive gasoline statewide this week, at $3.86 per gallon.
The most expensive gasoline average in the state could be found in El Paso, at $3.92.

Of course most of us have paid $4 or more during a fill-up (particularly if your car is picky about octane or you filled up at one of these stations).
We’re certainly not out of the woods, however. The hurricane season is young and other factors could loom:

July 24 (Bloomberg) — Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Valero Energy Corp. may be forced to close their refineries in Louisiana in the next three days if the Mississippi River stays closed because of a fuel oil spill, the Coast Guard said.
Exxon Mobil will have to shut its Chalmette refinery tomorrow if the river isn’t opened to commercial traffic, Jaclyn Young, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said. Shell would have to close its Motiva refinery by July 26 and Valero would close its St. Charles plant by July 27, she said.
“If they’re not receiving their supplies, or able to ship out their supplies, they will not be functional,” Young said. “They’re stressing their concerns” to the Coast Guard, she said..

The Associated Press says today that the Coast Guard has opened the river to limited traffic. And refinery operators told the Chronicle’s Brett Clanton that at least for now, they’re operating as usual.
A few other places to look around for gas prices: The local Gasbuddy site and Gaspricewatch.com (where you can enter your zip code and the map feature is generally better).