Don’t Expect Gas Prices to Keep Getting Cheaper

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The declining gas price party appears to be over. After soaring through early 2012, gas prices dipped in roller coaster fashion during spring and early summer, plummeting by 50¢ per gallon within a few months in much of the country. Recently, though, the roller coaster has been transformed into something along the lines of a flat, stable commuter train—one that’s hit a slight incline lately.

The story thus far in 2012 has been months of topsy-turvy, rapidly fluctuating gas prices. There have been periods when gas prices have risen 14¢ in some states while simultaneously dropping 14¢ in others. At times, it has seemed reasonable to expect $5 per gallon prices one month, and then just as reasonable to look forward to $3 per gallon a few months later. Now, gas prices seem to have stabilized—relatively speaking.

Earlier this week, the Energy Information Administration reported that the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.427, up slightly over 1¢ from the week before, and up roughly 7¢ over a two-week span (average of $3.356 as of July 2). Consumer Reports’ simplified analysis of the data shows that gas prices around the country are clustered fairly closely together, with most regions in the range of $3.30 to $3.55 per gallon. Even the West Coast, where gas prices have remained stubbornly high for months, is averaging what now seems like a reasonable $3.67 per gallon.

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While many drivers have grown accustomed to seeing prices shrink day after day at gas stations, the trend appears to be coming to an end. The Los Angeles Times noted that gas prices in California just increased for the first time in nine weeks. Even though the national average barely budged over the past week, the price of gallon increased by 5¢ or more throughout nearly all of the East Coast during this time period.

Speaking to Reuters, Trilby Lundberg, who regularly conducts the Lundberg Survey concerning gas prices around the nation, said that we are likely to soon be entering a period of “comparative stability,” in which there is “no strong reason” to anticipate that gas prices will keep inching toward the $3-per-gallon mark—a mark that some forecast to arrive by around Thanksgiving:

“The retail price may well have bottomed out,” Lundberg said. “Crude oil prices turned around during the period, and we are in our seasonal period of higher consumption. Lower prices are also an incentive for consumers to drive more, including to work.”

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If gas costs do remain fairly stable, drivers will enjoy prices at the pump that are considerably cheaper than last year: The average gallon at this time in 2011 was $3.67, compared to $3.41 according to the latest AAA Fuel Gauge Report. Then again, one would hope we’d be paying less than in 2011—which was the priciest year ever for gas, overall.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.