Gas prices get a winter break

Unrest in Libya and the Ukraine are pushing Unrest in Libya and the Ukraine are pushing up crude oil prices. This gas was pumped Sept. 27, 2013. Photo Credit: AP

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Bad weather, less driving and high inventories of gasoline are combining to give Long Islanders their seasonal winter break in prices at the pump.

Regular gas averaged $3.663 a gallon in Nassau and Suffolk Thursday, AAA said, representing a decline of 5.5 cents from the recent high of $3.718 on Jan. 3 and a decline of 8.9 cents from the average a year earlier of $3.752.

The slow decline in prices is likely to continue, experts say. "My expectation is that gasoline prices, especially on the East Coast, will come off a couple of more cents a gallon," said Andy Lipow, president of Houston consulting company Lipow Oil Associates LLC.

But, he said, prices are likely to begin their seasonal springtime rise next month or in March as warming weather leads to increased driving and, in April, when more-expensive-to-produce summer-grade gasoline is phased in.

Cold and snow that discouraged driving in the post-holiday period, combined with strong refinery output, led last week to increases in gasoline inventories, Lipow said. The U.S. Department of Energy reported Wednesday that supplies on the East Coast last week were 17.4 percent higher than a year earlier at 62.8 million barrels, while demand fell by 4 percent to about 8 million barrels a day.

The cold and snowy weather has had the opposite effect on heating oil supplies, however, the department reported. East Coast inventories of the fuel that most Long Islanders use to heat their homes fell by 17 percent last week from a year earlier, to 35.1 million barrels.

Prices for heating oil have risen by 16.2 cents since Nov. 11 on Long Island, according to the state Energy Research and Development Authority, which said the average at full service dealers was $4.161 a gallon on Monday. The Energy Department has forecast a 5 percent decline in heating oil prices this winter from last, but a 3 percent increase in consumption because weather forecasters expect a colder winter than last for the Northeast.

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