Gas prices in Frederick are down 3 cents from a week ago and below the state average, after rising sharply in January.
But the leveling off is expected to continue for only another week or two, before prices begin to increase as refineries shut down to begin the switch to summer blends.
The average price in Frederick was $2.57 per gallon on Friday, below Maryland’s statewide overage of $2.60, according to a summary released by AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The price was one of the lowest in the state, with the average price at $2.65 in Hagerstown, $2.67 in Cumberland and $2.56 in Annapolis.
Frederick’s average price was down from $2.60 a week ago, but up from the average of $2.51 a month ago, and up significantly from the $2.24 average price of a year ago.
Strong consumer confidence has led drivers to use more gasoline, and led to an unusually early rise in the demand for gas, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Christine Delise.
Usually, demand for gas is at its lowest in January and February, with cold and wet winter weather and people watching their budgets after the holidays, she said.
“This year is a little bit of an anomaly,” Delise said.
So far, production is keeping up with demand and a healthy level of gasoline inventory on the East Coast, she said.
U.S. crude oil production has increased from 2017, with an industry report showing an increase in active oil rigs to 765, 182 more rigs than were counted last February.
But the decrease in gas prices could be short-lived.
In late February, oil refineries begin temporary shutdowns to prepare for the transition to producing summer blend gasoline, which generally causes prices to rise as production is limited, Delise said.
The summer blend is basically a less volatile, cleaner-burning mix designed to meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements, said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst with the website GasBuddy.
But converting from winter mix to summer isn’t like flipping a light switch, and takes some time for refineries, he said.
He said he would expect the downward trend in prices to continue for at least the next week.
“A week or two, if we’re lucky,” he said.
A rise in prices will probably begin in late February or March, and continue through April and May, maybe between 25 and 50 cents a gallon, DeHaan said.
While prices could approach $3 per gallon, DeHaan said he doesn’t expect that they’ll reach that point.
“It’s within the realm of possibility,” he said.
June often sees some decrease in prices before they start going back up in the late summer months, he said.
All of this means that drivers should probably enjoy the slight drop in prices while they can.
“Maybe [this week’s slightly lower prices] is just a little bit of a break in the clouds,” Delise said.