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Fuel prices rise to record high in U.S.

The average jumps 4.9 cents to $3.103 a gallon, a survey says, but it falls slightly in California.

May 15, 2007|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Gasoline prices cooled in California, but the hot streak continued throughout the rest of the country, pushing the U.S. average past the September 2005 record set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The record was breached according to two popular standards of filling station prices.

The Energy Department's weekly survey on Monday posted a 4.9-cent gain to $3.103 a gallon, besting the old peak of $3.069 and running 15.6 cents ahead of the year-earlier price

A daily survey by the American Automobile Assn. found prices surging to new highs in 19 states, bringing the U.S. average to $3.073 a gallon. The average, determined using credit card receipts gathered by Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J., toppled the old mark of $3.057.

It was a rare week for California motorists, according to both surveys. The Energy Department said the price of a gallon of self-serve regular fell 1.1 cents to $3.45, still 12 cents above the price during the same week in 2006. California's AAA figure edged down to $3.483 from $3.49 on Wednesday, the all-time high for that survey.

But analysts cautioned that California's relief probably would be shallow and brief.

"We are seeing the Rockies and the Midwest replace the West as the hot spot," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks energy markets.

California may "have seen the worst of it," Kloza said. Gas prices "will go down but unfortunately not in nickels and dimes but in fractions of cents."

Refinery outages have been fueling the price increases that began in late January. But in as few as two months, those concerns will be replaced by hurricane season fears, Kloza said.

The biggest jumps in the last week were in the Midwest (up 9.8 cents to $3.172 a gallon) and the Rockies (up 10.3 cents to $3.193), the Energy Department said.

The refinery troubles will not ease soon, said Phil McPherson, director of research at C.K. Cooper & Co. in Irvine.

The refineries before the outages were like "a taxi that hadn't been serviced in a year or had its brakes checked. The problems will not go away overnight," McPherson said.

In New York trading, crude oil for June delivery closed at $62.46 a barrel, up 9 cents, based in part over continuing concerns about violence in Nigeria, one of the U.S.' and Europe's most important sources of oil.

"The instability and the supply risk will continue and may increase there," said Antoine Halff, head of energy research at Fimat USA Inc.

ron.white@latimes.com

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