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Gas prices are likely to dip nationwide

Americans probably will be paying the lowest prices for gasoline since January 2011 by Christmas, with some drivers filling up for less than $3 a gallon.

Prices may drop 25 cents to 30 cents by Dec. 25, said Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. is heading toward October with the lowest seasonal pump prices since 2010. The average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.399 Sunday, the lowest level since Jan. 29, according to AAA, the nation’s largest motoring club.

A decline of 30 cents a gallon would save consumers an average of about $3.36 a week, or $174.72 a year, according to data from Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. Cheaper gas prices could bring relief to drivers as the U.S. economy recovers from the worst slump since the 1930s.

“Barring significant disruptions in supply or increased conflict in the Middle East that drives up oil costs, there likely will be a number of states that average less than $3 a gallon by Christmas,” Green said.

In the Buffalo Niagara region, gasoline prices have dropped by about a dime since their peak in late July. The average price of unleaded gasoline locally stood at 3.763 cents per gallon Monday, down four cents over the past week and eight cents over the past month. Gasoline prices locally are 31 cents lower than they were a year ago, when unleaded gas cost an average of $4.07, AAA said.

Pump prices have dropped every day this month after crude and gasoline futures retreated as easing Middle East tensions reduced concern that oil shipments from the region would be curtailed.

The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, is shaping up as the first in almost two decades without a major storm. With the Atlantic full of dry air and storm-killing winds, there isn’t anything in sight that poses a threat to the U.S. or to oil and gas production areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The absence of major storms in the Gulf of Mexico region, home to 12 percent of U.S. crude production and 45 percent of refining capacity is located, has allowed U.S. refiners to operate at the highest seasonal rate in EIA data going back to 1989. Plants processed 16.1 million barrels a day of crude and other feedstocks in the week ended Sept. 20.

The average distance driven by U.S. drivers is 12,492 miles a year, or about 240 miles per week, and the average fuel economy of all light-duty vehicles is 21.5 mpg, according to Sivak, a professor at the research institute.

The last time any state’s average fell below $3 was in January when eight states went below that amount. The lowest average in the lower-48 states was $3.093 a gallon in South Carolina. The highest average was in California where drivers paid $3.921.