Labor Day weekend marks the end of the summer driving season, and soon, gasoline prices are expected to drop after spending most of the summer above $3 per gallon.
“Across the country, we switch over to winter blend gasoline, demand drops off, and you start seeing some relief at the pump,” said Jim Garrity, a spokesperson for AAA East-Central, which serves Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and Kentucky.
Fewer drivers tend to go on road trips after Labor Day, and gas stations will stock up on a different type of gasoline to keep engines operating smoothly in colder temperatures.
Refineries produce summer- or winter-blend gasoline depending on the time of year. The switch to the winter variety takes place mid-September in Pennsylvania.
“It is more expensive to make summer-blend gasoline,” Garrity said. “That comes down to the chemicals that they’re putting into it and also the availability of it across the country.”
While prices are expected to drop, it’s possible something unexpected could drive them back up, he said.
This time last year, Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast. It shut down refineries and pipelines, and drivers briefly felt some pain at the pump.
Despite a lack of extreme storms so far this summer, gasoline is pricier this year thanks to higher crude oil prices.
The last time drivers paid as much as they have for fuel this summer was in 2014, when the price of oil was sky-high. A global oversupply, due in large part to the shale fracking boom in places like Texas and North Dakota, sent oil prices plummeting for several years.
Those prices began to recover last year as OPEC nations held back oil production in an effort to reduce the oversupply.
Higher oil prices tend to correlate with higher gasoline prices, as refineries have to pay more to obtain crude oil so they can process it into gasoline and other products.