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    Fuel Prices Soar

    Blackout, Phoenix pipeline shutdown blamed for unprecedented nationwide price hikes.

    NEW YORK -- U.S. average retail gasoline prices made an unprecedented jump over the last two weeks, spurred by a shortage of gasoline due to power outages at refineries and the temporary shutdown of a pipeline in Arizona, according to analyst Trilby Lundberg.

    The national average price for self-serve regular unleaded gas rose 15.53 cents to $1.72 a gallon in the two weeks ended Aug. 22, according to the Lundberg survey of 8,000 gas stations and convenience stores. The jump from an average $1.56 price for the two-week period ended Aug. 8 was the biggest increase recorded in the 50-year history of the survey, Lundberg said.

    "We do not expect the high prices will last long," said Lundberg, who forecast a drop in prices "very quickly."

    Lundberg attributed the price spike to the power outage that hit parts of the central and northeastern United States on Aug. 14, interrupting production at some refineries. The closure of a gas pipeline from Tucson to Phoenix, Arizona, on Aug. 8 also restricted supply, Lundberg said. That pipeline, operated by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, restarted on Sunday.

    The most expensive gasoline was found in Phoenix, Arizona, at $2.14 a gallon, while the cheapest was in Charleston, South Carolina, at $1.49 a gallon, according to the survey.

    In Connecticut, gas station owners scrambled to keep up, raising prices several times throughout the weekend, and a state industry group predicted prices would continue to rise. "I literally came to work and gas across the street was $1.83," said Michael Fox, executive director of the state chapter of the Gasoline and Automotive Service Dealers of America. "I went to the bank, it was $1.90. I went to lunch it was $1.99."

    Fox said wholesalers were blaming supply problems -- several refineries were off-line and a pipeline ruptured in Arizona. But analysts and economists said prices soared because of speculation, not because of real shortages.

    A 10-cent-a-gallon spike Friday was described was the biggest one-day increase in recent memory in Maine, and it came on the heels of a 10-cent piecemeal increase last week. "I've never seen it go up 10 cents overnight unless there was a tax increase," said Larry Burke, owner of Burke's Exxon in Brewer, Maine.

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