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Fuel prices climb, more gas hikes predicted

Gasoline and heating oil prices rose again in the past week as a new federal government report said drivers can expect prices at least 25 cents higher at the pumps this spring and summer.

Regular gasoline averaged $2.921 a gallon on Long Island Thursday, the AAA said, 5.2 cents higher than a week earlier. Heating oil rose by 4 cents a gallon to $3.101 at full-service dealers on Long Island, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority said - the highest since early January.

The new gasoline price is 41 percent higher than a year earlier, while the heating oil figure is 22 percent above a year ago, so energy is taking a growing bite out of many Americans' strained household budgets. Between 2007 and last year, the average pay per employee on Long Island fell by 4 percent - it was flat nationally - according to figures from the private Rausch Foundation's Long Island Index.

Higher fuels costs are due mostly to the rising price of crude oil. It has doubled since early last year in anticipation of stronger, post-recession demand and because factors such as the decline in the value of the dollar have lured investment dollars to commodities such as oil.

The U.S. Department of Energy predicted Tuesday that crude oil would stay in the $80- to $85-per-barrel range through the end of next year. It closed Thursday at $82.11 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The energy department forecast that the national average price for gasoline, now $2.75 a gallon, will rise above $3 this spring and summer.

Gasoline prices normally rise at this time of year because of scheduled refinery shutdowns for maintenance and conversion to production of summer-grade gasolines, which are more expensive to make. And discretionary driving usually increases as the weather improves. Demand for gasoline nationally rose slightly last week from the week before, the energy department said, up 110,000 barrels a day to almost 9 million barrels a day.

"Demand has ticked up again in the past couple of weeks," said Jeff Mower, editor of the Platts Oilgram Price Report, based in Manhattan. "Some analysts are thinking it could be temporary - the bad winter storms are over and people are going out shopping and again."

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