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    U.S. Gas Pump Price Up to $2.79 a Gallon, Lundberg Says

    Reduced refining capacity use due to maintenance at strong demand time cited as main cause.

    NEW YORK -- The U.S. gasoline price at the pump rose 18 cents during the past two weeks to an average of $2.79 a gallon -- the highest price since early September, Trilby Lundberg said, citing her survey of 7,000 filling stations nationwide, according to a Bloomberg report.

    "The main cause of this hike has been reduced refining-capacity use due to maintenance, unplanned and planned, at a time of strong gasoline demand," Lundberg said in an interview, according to the report.

    Wholesale gasoline futures traded in New York rose above $2.14 a gallon on March 30 -- the highest since August amid declining inventories and strengthening demand for the motor fuel. Also, Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines on March 23 drove prices higher on concern tensions might lead to disruptions of Persian Gulf crude oil supplies, said the Bloomberg report.

    Additionally, U.S. inventories of gasoline fell for an eighth consecutive week to 205.2 million barrels in the week ended March 30, the lowest in more than three months, the Energy Department reported on April 4.

    Demand for gasoline in the last week of March was 4.7 percent higher than a year earlier at 9.5 million gallons a day, according to the department, and consumption averaged during the past four weeks was 1.7 percent higher than the same period a year earlier, the report stated. Gasoline demand usually peaks between Memorial Day in May and the Labor Day holiday in September.

    And refinery problems also have kept inventories from increasing.

    Valero Energy Corp., the largest U.S. refiner, announced on March 28 that it won't be able to fully restore production this year at its fire-damaged McKee refinery near Sunray, Texas. The plant had a processing capacity of 170,000 barrels of oil per day before the Feb. 16 fire, the report stated.

    Gasoline also followed crude oil higher as the Iranian crisis drove closing oil future prices as much as 3.8 percent higher through April 3 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil fell 2.4 percent this week after the captives were released.

    The highest price for self-serve regular gasoline was $3.30 a gallon in San Francisco, Lundberg said in the report. The lowest was in Charleston, S.C., at $2.54. On New York's Long Island, the price was $2.92 a gallon.

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