by jonathan fahey ap energy writer
Gasoline prices have fallen steadily throughout September, and drivers should look forward to even cheaper fill-ups in the weeks ahead.
The national average price for a gallon of gasoline is now $3.42, down from $3.59 on Sept. 1. The price is the lowest it's been at this time of year since 2010 and is likely to keep falling.
"It's a layup for me to predict lower prices until Columbus Day weekend," says Tom Kloza, Chief Oil Analyst at GasBuddy.com and Oil Price Information Service, which tracks retail and wholesale gasoline prices.
Wholesale gasoline prices have fallen faster in recent days than pump prices, so drivers can expect to pay even less as the pump prices catch up.
Gas prices tend to fall soon after Labor Day, but last year they didn't start dropping until mid-October. There are a few reasons for this fall's decline in price, experts say:
_ Refiners can switch to cheaper blends of gasoline in the winter months as clean-air rules are relaxed.
_ Gasoline demand declines in the fall after the summer driving season ends. At the same time supplies rise, because refiners are still making gasoline as they keep operations humming to make heating oil for winter and diesel and jet fuel for shippers.
_ Refineries have been relatively problem free compared with last year. No hurricanes, and few unexpected problems at refineries or pipelines.
Even relatively high oil prices haven't stopped gasoline's decline. Oil briefly topping $112 in August as a U.S. threat of military action against Syria made the market nervous about Middle East supplies. Oil has fallen from those highs but stayed above $100 per barrel, yet gasoline has fallen to its lowest price since Jan. 31.
Jonathan Fahey can be reached at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey.