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Gas prices rise slightly in California but edge down nationwide

The average price of a gallon rose just 1.2 cents in the last week in California but dropped 0.5 cents in the U.S. overall, the Energy Department says. Some analysts say it's unlikely that prices have peaked.

March 21, 2011|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

The average price of a gallon of gasoline rose just 1.2 cents over the last week in California but fell 0.5 cents nationwide, according to the Energy Department's weekly survey of service stations.

Even with the small rise in prices in the state and the decline nationally, experts warned that it might not be a sign that prices have peaked.

Oil and gasoline prices surged amid popular uprisings that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt and sparked protests in Yemen, Bahrain and other countries.

"Now that we have bombs dropping in Libya, I don't think that these prices are going down soon," said Fred Rozell, director of retail pricing for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey. "There is just too much volatility in those parts of the world where oil is produced."

Other analysts said the safest bet was that oil and gasoline prices would continue to rise.

"What worries me, it's not just about enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya," said Phil Flynn, an energy analyst with PFGBest Research. "You've got generals defecting and a possible civil war in Yemen. You have riots in Syria. The region continues to be a mess."

In the last week, the average pump price in California reached $3.966 a gallon, which was 87.5 cents higher than a year earlier. Nationally, the average fell to $3.562 a gallon, which was 74.3 cents higher.

Oil rose modestly Monday. Crude oil futures for April delivery rose $1.36 to $102.43 per barrel. In London, Brent crude — oil coming from wells in the North Sea — rose $1.14 to settle at $114.91 per barrel.

As fighting raged on in Libya, oil and natural gas production in that country has been cut 60% to 90%, an Energy Department assessment said Monday. The drop in Libyan oil production most directly affects Europe, especially Italy, which buys 28% of all Libyan exports, and France, which buys 15%. Libya's next biggest customers are China (11%), Germany (10%) and Spain (10%).

The U.S. oil supply is only slightly affected by the reduction in the Libyan product. The U.S. bought just 70,500 barrels of oil a day from Libya in 2010, which amounted to 0.6% of total imports.

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