Diesel price near all-time high; oil closes above $100

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The national average retail price of a gallon of diesel soared 11.6 cents from last week to $3.396 for the week ending Monday, Feb. 18, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. On Tuesday, Jan. 19, oil prices hit record highs as a Texas refinery fire and fears of an OPEC production cut pushed crude to close above $100 a barrel for the first time, the Associated Press reported.

This week’s diesel price, the fifth-highest ever recorded, is 90.5 cents higher than the same week last year. The price is at its highest point since hitting $3.416 on Dec. 3, 2007, one week after setting the all-time record high of $3.444 on Nov. 26. The average price now has been above $3 for 22 consecutive weeks. DOE’s weekly roundup of fuel prices was delayed one day because of the Presidents Day holiday.

All regions tracked by DOE saw prices increases, and only two regions saw price hikes of less than 10 cents. The biggest increase, 13 cents, was in the Lower Atlantic, where the price roared to $3.396 to match the national average. The smallest increase, 4.6 cents, was in the New England region, where the price climbed to $3.588, the nation’s most expensive diesel. The nation’s least expensive price, $3.350, was in the Rocky Mountain region, where week-over-week prices climbed 8.6 cents.

For state-by-state diesel prices, updated daily, click here.

On Tuesday, U.S. crude for March delivery jumped $4.51 to settle at $100.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, topping the previous settlement record of $99.62 set Jan. 2; oil also hit a new all-time trading high of $100.10 a barrel, besting the previous high of $100.9 set Jan. 3. March gasoline jumped 11.4 cents to $2.6078 a gallon, and March heating oil rose 10.41 cents to $2.751 a gallon.

Retail gas prices, meanwhile, jumped 1.8 cents to a national average price of $3.032 a gallon Tuesday, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Retail prices, which typically lag the futures market, are following oil prices higher; the Energy Department predicts gas prices will peak near $3.40 a gallon this spring.

March natural gas jumped 30.1 cents to $8.961 per 1,000 cubic feet; analysts told the AP that prices were supported by forecasts for cooler weather, but that futures also were following oil prices higher.

Officials told the news agency that the Alon USA-owned refinery in Big Spring, Texas, which processes nearly 70,000 barrels of oil a day, could be closed for as long as two months following last weekend’s explosion and ensuing fire. Also, OPEC might move to cut production in the second quarter, typically a period of low demand, though analysts told AP that’s unlikely.

Other factors affecting the price of oil include the dollar’s fall Tuesday, giving investors a reason to buy oil; crude futures offer a hedge against a falling dollar, and oil futures bought and sold in dollars are more attractive to foreign investors when the greenback is falling, analysts told the AP.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez made conflicting statements last weekend about the country’s legal dispute with Exxon Mobil. Chavez said he was not serious about an earlier threat to cut oil sales to the United States, but he also threatened to sue Exxon Mobil. The company, which is fighting Venezuela’s nationalization of an oil project, recently convinced several courts to freeze $12 billion in Venezuelan oil assets.