Gas Prices Hit a Seven-Month High

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WASHINGTON – U.S. drivers dug deeper in their pockets over the last week to fill up at the pump, as the price for gasoline jumped 13 cents to hit a seven-month high of $2.44 a gallon, the Energy Department said Tuesday.

The national price for regular unleaded gasoline has soared 36 cents since the beginning of May, but the pump price is still down $1.50 from a year ago, the department’s Energy Information Administration said in its weekly survey of service stations.

Rising crude oil costs are pushing up gasoline prices, on signs that an improving U.S. economy will boost petroleum demand. Seasonal factors also played a role; U.S. gasoline prices normally rise as summer approaches and Americans take to the roads for summer holiday travelling.

U.S. crude oil futures settled at a fresh 2009 high of $62.45 a barrel on Tuesday at the New York Mercantile Exchange, after U.S. consumer confidence rose in May to its highest level in eight months.

The EIA’s weekly survey found the West Coast had the most expensive gasoline at $2.58 a gallon, up 12 cents from last week. By city, San Francisco had the highest price at $2.65, up 12 cents.

The Gulf Coast states had the lowest regional price at $2.32 a gallon, up 11 cents. Houston had the cheapest city pump price at $2.27, up 9 cents.

The agency also said gasoline prices were up 8 cents at $2.64 in Chicago; up 12 cents at $2.64 in Los Angeles; up 8 cents at $2.58 in Seattle; up 20 cents at $2.51 in Cleveland; up 11 cents at $2.50 in Miami; up 11 cents at $2.42 in New York City and up 11 cents at $2.36 in Boston.

The average price for diesel fuel increased 4.3 cents to $2.27 a gallon, down $2.45 from a year ago, but still the highest price since late January, the EIA said.

The central Atlantic states had the most expensive diesel at $2.41 a gallon, up 1.4 cents. The Midwest region had the cheapest diesel fuel at $2.23, up 5.9 cents. Countrywide, once the largest U.S. home lender, was faulted by regulators last year for feeding the housing bubble with loose lending standards and was bought by Bank of America Corp last July for $2.5 billion after nearly collapsing.

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