DALLAS — The average gasoline pump price fell during March for the first time in 10 years, said AAA, the nation’s largest motoring organization.
The national average today is $3.63 a gallon, compared with $3.92 a year earlier, AAA said. Prices fell 15 cents in March, and the average should remain less expensive than last spring, Heathrow, Fla.-based AAA said.
Gasoline prices have been held in check as a jump in domestic oil output has reduced crude futures prices in New York by 6.4 percent from a year ago. U.S. refiners operated at 85.7 percent of capacity in the week ended March 22, the highest level in two months and up from 81 percent two weeks before.
“It is very unusual for gas prices to decline in early spring like we have seen this year,” Avery Ash, a spokesman for AAA in Washington, said in a statement. “An increase in refinery production and lower oil prices in early March have combined to provide rare falling prices for motorists.”
Prices rose 34 cents in the first quarter, less than the 65-cent increase in the same quarter a year earlier, AAA said in an emailed statement. The average cost for the motor fuel has fallen 29 out of 33 days since reaching $3.79 a gallon on Feb. 27. In 2012, prices peaked at $3.94 a gallon on April 5 and April 6.
“We saw the preseason rally early this year in January and February as refiners went down for seasonal and inventories drew,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.
The United States produced 84 percent of its own energy in 2012, the most since 1991, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department. The measure of self-sufficiency rose to 88 percent in December, the highest since February 1987.
Crude production jumped to 7.16 million barrels a day as of March 8, the highest level since July 1992, driven by increased drilling in oilfields including North Dakota’s Bakken shale and the Eagle Ford in Texas, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Planned turnarounds between January and March took 1.13 million barrels a day of crude processing capacity offline, a 45 percent increase from the five-year average of 780,000 barrels, according to IIR Energy, a Sugar Land, Texas-based energy- information provider. From April to June, that figure will drop to 676,000 barrels, 35 percent above the five-year average.