GasBuddy backs off $3 gas nationally by summer

Drivers like Lucy Perez of Charlotte will see the lowest summer gasoline prices in about six years, according to an Energy Department report released Tuesday.

Predictions about $3-a-gallon gas in the months ahead appear to be premature.

Drivers will see the lowest summer gasoline prices in about six years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The national average price is forecast to fall 32 percent from a year ago to $2.45 a gallon between April and September, the period when Americans do most of their driving.

That would mark the lowest seasonal average since 2009.

On Tuesday, GasBuddy backed off its projection from three months ago that gas prices would accelerate to about $3 a gallon nationally by May. It now forecasts the price of gasoline nationally will stay below $2.45 a gallon in April, $2.40 in May and $2.35 in June.

“We believe we may have already seen the 2015 peak for the U.S. when the national average hit $2.47 a gallon on March 6,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.

“Once refineries complete their scheduled maintenance seasons and the switch to summer formulations is complete, their output typically increases,” DeHaan said. “Barring any unforeseen events — like refinery breakdowns or hurricanes — current supply-and-demand fundamentals could put more downward pressure on retail prices even during the summer driving season.”

The price of gasoline rose 45 cents per gallon since the first of the year, when the national price flirted with $2 a gallon nationally before it began rising in February.

On average, consumers are saving $1.10 per gallon versus last year, and GasBuddy says it’s “highly possible” that summer gas purchases could bring even greater savings.

For the year, the Energy Department expects gasoline to average $2.40 a gallon, down from $3.36 in 2014.

“It’s a very realistic average, but like a lot of averages, it doesn’t speak to some of the lumpiness you’ll see,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at OPIS.

He expects the fluctuation in the price to be uneven, and said it could even dip below the $2 mark within the period. He expects demand for gasoline to reach a high point in July and August.

The lower prices are a result of world oil supplies growing faster than demand because of higher production in North America and elsewhere. That dynamic has been depressing the price of crude oil.

But the Energy Department warned the forecast could substantially change if oil-related sanctions against Iran are lifted as part of ongoing negotiations. That country is believed to hold at least 30 million barrels of oil in storage.

South Carolina, with some of the lowest gasoline taxes in the nation, has the least expensive gasoline in the U.S. The average price for a gallon of gasoline dropped 6 cents last week to about $2.08 a gallon, according to GasBuddy’s daily survey of more than 3,000 gas outlets in the Palmetto State.

Charleston and North Charleston have the highest-priced gas in South Carolina at $2.11 a gallon, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report. Myrtle Beach has the state’s lowest average price at $2.04.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.