Gas prices usually rise in metro Atlanta during the late spring and summer. Not this year. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Summer turnabout: Lower gas prices for metro Atlanta

Looks like you will have a little more coin to spend on sparklers, dogs and your beverage of choice this year.

As Atlantans gear up for the Fourth of July holiday — and for long drives to relatives, friends or the beach — the price of gasoline has dipped lower than it was in the heart of the winter.

That just doesn’t happen, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for Gas Buddy.

“You can thank OPEC for this inversion” of seasonal trends, he said.

Long-term gas prices ride on the cost of oil, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries voted not to cut production, which kept supplies ample and sent prices sliding.

“This could be the cheapest summer since 2005,” DeHaan said.

Gas prices Thursday averaged $2.13 a gallon for regular in metro Atlanta, compared with about $2.25 at the start of the year, according to Gas Buddy. Adjusted for inflation, prices are back to levels of about 1984.

Americans use about 392 million gallons of gasoline a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which does not report consumption by state.

But as the largest state east of the Mississippi River, and with more than 3 percent of the nation’s people, Georgia is pretty likely in the top 10 for gas use.

In an online poll by Gas Buddy, nearly 70 percent of Georgia drivers who responded said they spend more than $50 a month on gasoline. More than 20 percent said they spend more than $200 a month.

Lower prices ought to be a short-term bump in consumer purchasing power, said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for the AAA Auto Club Group. “When travelers spend less at the pump, they are left with extra cash to spend on lodging, shopping, and dining out.”

If prices were at their 2008 peak, Georgians would be spending more than $25 million a day more on gasoline.

As he filled the tank of a pick-up truck at an Exxon station in Dunwoody, Monte Lester of Mableton said he’s noticed gas prices have been “fairly good.”

While he’s not driving anywhere for the holiday weekend, he looks forward to taking advantage of the low gas prices when he drives to Destin, Fla., for vacation next week.

Not far away, Tyler King was also pumping gas into a pick-up. He had noticed prices were higher around the city than in Habersham County, where he lives, but he wasn’t too bothered by that difference.

“To be honest I don’t really pay attention to gas prices, but I have noticed they’ve been down the past couple weeks,” he said.

His attitude is not unusual.

The spread between higher and lower prices is larger as prices fall, but consumers stop thinking about it, preferring to buy where it’s convenient, DeHaan said.

“Motorists are desensitized to lower prices and they are wasting money.”

The highest priced gas on Thursday could be found in Atlanta, according to Gas Buddy: $2.79 a gallon. In contrast, there was at least one station – in Conyers – that would sell you gasoline for $1.86 a gallon.

Not that Americans haven’t responded to the lower prices. There has been a several-year surge of demand for larger, less efficient vehicles. That could come back to haunt drivers if the price of gas skyrockets.

It sure doesn’t look like that is in the offing anytime soon.

What could send prices soaring? A war in the Middle East, a shutdown of American oil production, a sudden OPEC decision to shun market share in favor of high prices.

But short-term trends can shove the price of U.S. gasoline higher even if oil prices are not rising. Most critical would be slowdowns or shuttering of the nation’s refineries, most of which are on the Gulf Coast.

That happens each fall when refineries switch from summer to winter blends. It happens when there are fires or accidents. And it happens if a hurricane rocks the Gulf of Mexico.

Atlanta also depends on the two big pipelines that bring gasoline from the refineries. Anything that takes them out of operation – like last year’s line breaks in Alabama– is likely to send prices higher.

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