Current gas prices lower than last year

The temperature outdoors is rising, but gas prices are not. Gas prices are slowly decreasing nationally and in the Southern Crescent area. They have been declining since April 17, according to officials with AAA’s The Auto Club Group.

The group reported that, for the first time since the start of the year, motorists are paying less for a gallon of gas than they did in 2011.

AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report revealed that consumers paid on average $3.80 for a gallon of regular unleaded gas nationwide Wednesday, compared to $3.96 per gallon a year ago. Wednesday’s average price in metro Atlanta was $3.66 per gallon, compared to $3.88 the year prior.

Decreased global demand for fuel is one of the main factors causing retail gas prices to retreat, said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA’s The Auto Club Group.

Brady cited the U.S. Energy Information Administration which reported the nation’s gasoline demand fell 4.2 percent from this time last year.

Additionally, she said that China — the world’s second largest oil-consuming country — has seen its demand numbers drop to the lowest level since October. Europe’s debt crisis has caused fuel demand to steadily decrease since last year also.

“Since the start of the year, 2012 broke daily, weekly and monthly records for the highest price averages at the pump, but now the tables have turned and prices are below last year’s level,” said Brady. “If gas prices do continue to fall throughout the month of May, we could definitely see an increase in the number of Americans traveling for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.”

AAA reported that this year’s peak price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas, so far, has been $3.93 nationwide on April 5, which is about 13 cents higher than this week’s average of $3.80.

Patrick DeHaan said he noticed the slow decline in gas prices about a month earlier than he anticipated. DeHaan is senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, a web company based in Brooklyn Park, Minn., that provides users with real-time, interactive gas-price monitoring.

“I think prices may have, indeed, peaked,” said DeHaan “As a result of earlier-than-normal rally in the market, prices peaked sooner than expected. [And] we saw prices decrease about a month ahead of where we anticipated. It is possible, and maybe likely, that the national average will continue these slow and incremental drops.”

The petroleum analyst said he believes will continue to moderate, barring any unexpected occurrences in the geopolitical arena that could change the current course of energy markets.

DeHaan pointed to other market forces that help drive down prices locally. He explained that increased use of the GasBuddy.com web sites, for instance, has helped motorists become price-savvy consumers, who are able to compare prices among filling stations far beyond their neighborhoods.

When consumers are aware of cheaper gas options and exercise their buying power, it elevates competition at those stations vying for their patronage, he said.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in the amount of people that come to our sites as gas prices increase,” DeHaan added. “We’ve seen situations where there is a price war between two stations and surrounding competitors that aren’t within seeable distance dropping their price.”