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Gas prices are down from a year ago
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All the talk earlier this year was that gas prices could reach and possibly even soar past $4 per gallon.

But as of April 24, consumers started paying less at the pump than they did a year ago, said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA auto club in Tampa, Fla.

And that trend has continued.

According to GasBuddy.com, the average price of regular gas was $3.87 per gallon on May 2, 2011. Prices Wednesday in the Gainesville area ranged from $3.58 to $3.71 per gallon.

What drove up prices were concerns in January and February that Iran was going to block the Strait of Hormuz, a passageway “that transports about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply,” Brady said.

Then, on April 14, United Nations and Iranian government officials held talks that were “said to be constructive,” she said.

“That meeting alone eased a lot of the tension and concern that we were going to have this disruption in oil supply.”

Also, “demand numbers are still lagging behind last year,” Brady said.

U.S. demand is down about 4.2 percent and demand in China, the second-largest oil-consuming country, is at its “lowest levels since October,” she said.

 “... And then, you have the European countries, which are dealing with their debt crisis and that has put a substantial damper on their fuel demand.”

Looking at all the factors, “there just isn’t support for $4 gasoline at this time,” Brady said.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy, said that gas prices started increasing sooner than expected this year and “that resulted in gas prices peaking sooner than expected.”

“From here on out, at least for the majority of the summer, it does appear that gas prices will remain in the mid-$3 range, perhaps upper $3 range,” he said.

The annual hurricane season and Middle East happenings are main factors in determining future gas prices.

“With the initial forecast saying that hurricane season should be quieter than normal, I think that certainly bodes well,” DeHaan said.

The U.N. and Iran are scheduled to meet again in late May, Brady said.

“If that meeting is amicable and everything is going well, I think we’ll be OK,” she said. “But if they ... do not come to an agreement and Iran decides they are going to threaten to block the oil supply, I think we could see oil prices go back up.”

In other words, stay tuned to news and weather.

“At this point, (lower prices are) definitely welcomed news for consumers, especially as we approach the Memorial Day weekend,” Brady said. “We could see many more Americans traveling.”

AAA will release holiday travel projections later this month, she added.

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