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Are Tampa Bay gas prices heading back below $2 a gallon?

With area gas prices down an average 91 cents a gallon in the past year, are we heading for a sub-$2 period of cheaper auto travel?

It's possible. Gas prices in this metro area now average close to $2.28, down a penny from the day before, and well below the $2.51 a month ago and the $3.19 we paid one year ago, says AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report.

Some area gas stations already sell gas for a lot less. According to the Gas Buddy website, the Speedway on 30th Avenue North in St. Petersburg is selling gas at $2.12, while the Rally store on 49th Street N in Clearwater is a penny cheaper at $2.11. A Brandon Shell on Lumsden Road is at $2.14.

We know the drill. Gas prices are tough to predict even when it's clear oil prices are still falling. Some refinery somewhere can go on the fritz and bump prices higher, which is exactly what's happening regionally now at a BP refinery in the Midwest. Gas formulas can change seasonally influencing price.

Still, the big picture signs suggest lower gas prices should still be coming our way, good news for the general economy, transportation-dependent businesses and especially long distance commuters.

"When oil prices started to edge down a year ago, most energy mavens thought the drop would be small and short-lived," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Instead, the price of crude has plunged by almost 60 percent from its 2014 peak — and suddenly looks likely to stay low for months and maybe years to come."

The reason? In the global battle for market share, the Journal says, "nobody has backed down. Nobody has even blinked. Not Saudi Arabia, not the U.S., and not even troubled producers from Russia to Iraq. Everyone who can seems locked into pumping as much oil as possible."

And if sanctions are lifted against Iran, it too may start adding to the global oil glut and the pressure to lower gas prices.

Sound familiar? In January, the average price of unleaded gasoline in Tampa Bay fell below $2 for the first time in six years. We may be heading there again, AAA says.

"Gas prices could drop more dramatically after Labor Day as people take fewer road trips and use less gasoline, which could lead to an even larger glut in petroleum supplies," AAA researchers say.

"In addition, stations in many parts of the country can switch over to less expensive winter-blend gasoline on Sept. 15. The Southeastern and Central United States are the two regions most likely to see a large number of gas stations offering prices around $2 per gallon this winter."

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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