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Gas prices expected to fall

Gas prices are drifting lower as the summer driving season ends and the nation's refineries begin their switch back to the less expensive, winter blend of fuels. In its monthly gas price report, AAA says it expects gas prices to fall by an additional 10 to 20 cents per gallon by the end of October.

"The big crunch in summer travel is done, and most of us can look forward to lower gas prices during the next few months," AAA spokesman Avery Ash said in a statement. "If we can get through September without any major refinery or overseas problems, we should see more gas stations drop below $3 per gallon this fall."

The two major wild cards in this forecast are geopolitics and the weather.

The Atlantic hurricane season peaks in September and, depending on their direction and intensity, those storms can cause major disruptions to production at gas refineries along the Gulf Coast. AAA notes that when Hurricane Issac struck Louisiana and Mississippi in 2012, it forced the closure of several refineries and caused the average national price of gas to spike by 11 cents for over a week.

Gas prices also jumped this past June as Islamic militants swept through northern Iraq and threatened oil and gas production in the region. But those prices stabilized as the threat to Iraqi oil production decreased.

Financial markets are nervously watching as factional fighting flares in another oil-producing country, Libya, while tensions remain high between oil-rich Russia and the west over the Ukraine crisis.

But for at least the near future, the boom in oil from domestic shale extraction, cars with better mileage and a decline in the overall number of Americans driving regularly have helped to keep consumer pain at the gas pump to a minimum.

As the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted last month, record-setting levels of U.S. fuel oil production have also helped to counterbalance any potential supply disruptions on the global oil market.

"It was truly a summer of contrasts," Ash noted, looking back on the past several months, "with consumers paying the highest seasonal prices in years to begin the summer, but ending with the lowest prices since 2010. Many drivers lucked out with it costing significantly less to fill up the car during the busiest part of the summer."

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