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April crude oil, gasoline prices lower

Mike Hess, of Selden, fuels his truck Wednesday

Mike Hess, of Selden, fuels his truck Wednesday afternoon at a Gulf station in Centereach. (April 17, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Falling crude oil prices and improved supplies of gasoline are bringing drivers some relief at the gas pump.

Regular gasoline averaged $3.783 a gallon on Long Island Wednesday, the AAA said, down 18 cents from a month earlier and down almost 27 cents from the recent peak of $4.045 on Feb. 26.

U.S. benchmark crude oil has fallen by more than $11 a barrel since January 30, from $97.94 to close Wednesday at $86.68. The European benchmark Brent grade, the main ingredient for much of the gasoline sold here, has fallen by almost $20, from $117.88 on Feb. 13 to $97.91 Wednesday.

Experts say the decline stems from weak demand for fuels in the United States and Europe, and signs that China's economy is slowing.

Gene McGillian, an analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn., said crude could drop further. "Prices still haven't bottomed," he said. Motorists can expect further declines at the pump in coming weeks, experts say.

Analyst Stephen Schork, editor of the industry bulletin The Schork Report, cautions that prices could turn upward again next month and in June as stations begin selling summer gasoline, which is required by clean-air laws to be less evaporative, and which is more expensive to produce. "That could add strength to pump prices," he said.

But, he added, "At the pace we're going, consumers probably are going to pay the least for gasoline this summer that they've paid for a few summers."

The U.S. Department of Energy is forecasting gasoline pump prices averaging 1.8 percent lower this summer than last -- at a national average of $3.63 for a gallon of regular. The department does not specifically forecast Long Island prices but a department analyst, Timothy Hess, said Wednesday, "Generally we look at prices coming down a little bit on the East Coast," averaging about a penny lower in July than they are now.

Hess and Schork also noted some easing of the chronic shortage of U.S. refinery capacity to service the East Coast, which some experts blamed for tight supplies and high prices. The shortage resulted from the closure in late 2011 of a Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook, Pa., the closure last year of a Hess refinery in St. Croix, and the shutdown of Hess Corp.'s refinery in Port Reading, N.J., on Feb. 26. The Delta Air Lines refinery, in Trainer, Pa., is now producing gasoline full throttle after being closed for a time last year. "Relative to a year ago, we have more capacity," Schork said.

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