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WASHINGTON -- As crude oil prices neared 18-month highs, pump prices reached their lowest levels in three years heading into a Labor Day holiday weekend, the Energy Department.
The national price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline increased for the first time in five weeks, rising 1.1 cents over the last week to $1.403 a gallon. Still, the latest fuel price is down 8.5 cents from a year ago and the lowest for a Labor Day weekend since 1999, based on a weekly survey of more than 800 gas stations and convenience stores by the department's Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Drivers are getting a break at the pump in spite of crude oil prices hovering around $30 a barrel on fears that OPEC won't increase production when the cartel meets next month. Helping to keep prices under control at the pump are strong gasoline inventories, up 7.5 million barrels from last year.
The national price for cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline (RFG), which is sold at about one-third of the gas stations in cities and smoggier areas, was up 1.7 cents at $1.48 a gallon, EIA said. The West Coast had the most expensive regular unleaded gasoline, with the average price in the region up 0.7 cent to $1.54 a gallon. The lower Atlantic states had the cheapest fuel, as the average price was up a slight 0.1 cent to $1.30 a gallon.
San Francisco maintained its top spot among major cities in fuel costs, although the price was down 0.3 cent at $1.66 a gallon. Houston again was the best deal at the pump, though gasoline was up 1.8 cents to $1.327 a gallon.
The report also showed gasoline prices up 3.1 cents in Los Angeles at $1.57, up 4.4 cents in Chicago at $1.51, up 0.7 cent in New York City at $1.48 and down 0.9 cent in Denver at $1.43.
The biggest year-on-year change in city pump prices was in Chicago, where gasoline costs were down 27 cents a gallon. The EIA has forecast pump prices to peak at around $1.43 later this summer, way off from last year's record weekly price of $1.70 a gallon. Separately, the nationwide price for diesel fuel was up 3.7 cents to $1.37 a gallon, but down 8.2 cents from last year.
Truckers on the West Coast paid the most for diesel fuel at $1.48 a gallon, up 2.1 cents from the prior week. The lower Atlantic states had the cheapest diesel at $1.32 a gallon, up 3.5 cents.