Americans should enjoy falling gasoline prices for the next several weeks as they wrap up their summer vacations, the government's top energy forecasting agency said Wednesday.

The national price for regular unleaded gasoline fell 3.8 cents over the last week to $3 per gallon, the biggest one-week drop at the pump since mid-May but still 45 cents more than consumers shelled out last year.

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This summer's average gasoline price has been the highest on record, pushed up by strong fuel demand, refinery shutdowns and concerns that the West's dispute over Iran's nuclear program, continuing violence in Iraq and the recent Israeli-Hizbollah war in Lebanon could disrupt petroleum supplies.

However, the federal Energy Information Administration said last week's sharp fall off in fuel costs points "to a probable significant decline in retail prices over the next few weeks, assuming no major events occur to alter their path."

By major events, EIA was referring to wars, international tensions, hurricanes and refinery problems.

With gasoline's price rising nearly 52 cents during the final three weeks of summer last year, most of that rise was due to Hurricane Katrina, pump costs should finally dip below year-ago levels by the Labor Day holiday in early September, the Energy Department's analytical arm said.

"While this may provide scant comfort to U.S. drivers still paying around $3 per gallon for gasoline, it's a relief to some who feared prices might have gone even higher this summer," EIA said in its weekly review of the petroleum market.

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