Gasoline costs take a slight dip after oil prices fall

Houston-area fuel costs remain flat, but the national average price for gasoline fell by nearly 2 cents in the past week because of plummeting oil prices.

Record high storage levels of crude in the U.S. last week sent oil prices falling by about $5 a barrel, down to less than $48.50 a barrel for the U.S. benchmark. That sent gasoline prices slightly lower, even though fuel prices typically rise in March because of increasing demand and the switch by refineries to more expensive summer-grade gasoline.

The average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline on Monday morning was $2.07 in the Houston area and $2.29 nationwide.

If nothing else, the fall in oil prices is delaying the inevitable rise in gasoline costs for much of the spring season, according to GasBuddy, which tracks fuel pricing and refining activity.

“Naturally, when oil prices take a beating such as they did last week, one might expect gasoline prices to move in lockstep, but due the complex relationship of oil and gasoline prices and the middleman — U.S. refineries — motorists may not see as large a decline at the pump as they may hope for — but certainly stay tuned,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

DeHaan said lowered oil prices may keep the seasonal rise in fuel prices from being as sharp as in past years.

Locally, Houston-area prices are higher than the almost historically cheap $1.75 a gallon average in March of last year, but still lower than $2.23 in 2015, $3.21 in 2014, $3.52 in 2013 and $3.74 in 2012.