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Gas prices fall as July 4th weekend begins

The economy may be making people nervous, but drivers should have a happy Fourth of July at the pump.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The economy may be making people nervous, but drivers should have a happy Fourth of July at the pump.

Gasoline prices have changed very little this week and, by some analyst estimates, may even fall a bit over the long holiday weekend.

The good news for motorists is that even with more people expected on the roads, ample supplies and anemic demand likely will keep prices fairly stable and below $3 a gallon this summer.

"Americans are hitting the road. They may not be spending money on garments. They may not be putting investments into the stock market but they are traveling," Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said. "It's not going to be a painful summer for the pocketbook in terms of fuel."

The national average for retail gasoline prices fell .04 cent to $2.75 a gallon Friday, according to Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That's 12 cents higher than a year ago but well below the $3 a gallon analysts were calling for back in March and April. The price is about one-half cent less than a week ago.

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Motorists paid about the same price as the Memorial Day weekend began in late May. The price is nearly 20 cents below the peak of $2.93 a gallon, which occurred in the second week of May.

The number of Americans taking a trip this weekend is expected to increase 17.1 percent from 2009 levels, when the country was mired in the recession, according to AAA. Nearly 35 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home. Most will drive.

For travelers, the lowest gas prices are expected to be in Texas, Gulf Coast states and parts of the Midwest. Even those headed to the Jersey shore may see prices around the state average of $2.609 a gallon.

The highest prices are in the West, where they range from $2.861 a gallon to $3.495 a gallon.

The biggest impact on oil and gas prices has been the growing uncertainty about the economic recovery. Disappointing economic news has hurt consumer confidence in the United States in addition to ongoing fears about Europe's financial crisis and slowing growth in China.

Oil prices fell 9.7 percent from the first quarter to the end of the second quarter in June and fell Friday for a sixth consecutive trading session on more discouraging economic news.

The Labor Department said businesses added a net total of 83,000 workers, which was more than May but still less than hiring in March and April. It was another indication of the slowing economic recovery.

Benchmark crude for August delivery lost 81 cents to settle at $72.14 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in August contracts, gasoline futures lost 1.99 cents to settle at $1.9777 a gallon, heating oil fell 2.3 cents to settle at $1.9155 a gallon and natural gas dropped 16.7 cents to settle at $4.687 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude dropped 74 cents to $71.60 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.