Gasoline price up 9.7 cents in U.S.;

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California’s drivers continue to pay more at the pump than motorists in other states.

Los Angeles Times

Gasoline prices took another leap nationwide during the last week, the Energy Department said Monday, with California motorists enjoying a rare period in which retail prices advanced more slowly here than elsewhere.

Still, Californians paid the highest prices, averaging $3.228 for a gallon of self-serve regular, up 7.6 cents from the previous Monday and 48.5 cents higher than a year ago. California remains the only state where gasoline averages more than $3 a gallon.

The U.S. average rose 9.7 cents to $2.707 a gallon, driven by price surges in every region, including a 12.3-cent increase in the Gulf Coast states, according to the Energy Department’s weekly survey of filling stations. At this time last year, the U.S. average was 11.9 cents lower.

A separate price survey by AAA had San Francisco’s average gasoline price Sunday at a record $3.384 a gallon.

Pump prices began rising in late January, which industry analysts attributed to strong oil prices, persistent refinery problems and brisk fuel demand.

One reason demand is growing: California alone added 700,000 registered vehicles in 2006 while adding little gasoline refinery capacity.

Distances driven on California’s state and federally maintained roads rose by 750 million miles in 2006.

There were 29.8 million personal and commercial vehicles registered in California in 2006, the state Department of Motor Vehicles said Monday, up more than 16% from the 25.6 million in 2000.

Also in 2006, the number of miles driven on state and federal roads in California rose to 182.6 billion, up 12% from the 163.6 billion recorded in 2000, according to preliminary figures released Monday by the state Board of Equalization.

“Refinery capacity and bulk storage for California has not really moved in 20 years, and in that time you have gone from Volkswagens to Escalades to RVs in fuel consumption,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.

Consumer rights activists maintain that oil companies are deliberately keeping supplies low in California to justify the nation’s highest prices.

“The oil companies continue to frame this as a matter of supply and demand, but what they don’t talk about is that they control the supply,” said Judy Dugan, a spokeswoman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. “That would be fine if they were selling Tickle Me Elmo dolls because no one has to buy them. But gasoline is something that no Californian with a job or a family can do without.”

In New York futures trading, the U.S. benchmark light, sweet crude for May delivery closed at $65.94 a barrel, up 7 cents.
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