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Oil and gasoline prices are still climbing

April 6, 2011 | 12:39 pm

Crude prices touched their highest levels in nearly three years as NATO intensified its air assaults over Libya and as some of the world oil producers claimed there was little they could do to rein in prices.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate climbed 49 cents to close at $108.83 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after rising as high as $109.15 earlier in the day, its highest since September 2008. In London, Brent crude rose 4 cents to settle at $121.93 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

CA_grph Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst for Oppenheimer and Co., blamed high oil prices on "continuing tension in the Middle East, along with new threats of potential supply disruption. Election fraud in Nigeria is stirring new fear of civil unrest and potential attacks on oil facilities that could lead to supply disruption, and the return of commodity speculation by financial players is raising fears of inflation."

Meanwhile, ministers for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Paris said they had few concerns about current oil prices affecting the global economic recovery. Hussain Shahristani, Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy affairs and a former oil minister, told reporters that OPEC had done all it could to calm the rally.

“All that OPEC can do is provide the market with the oil it needs, and it is doing that. We have not seen any slowdown in growth," he said.

But Gheit said some Middle East officials were only making matters worse.

"There were recent comments by Zaky Yamani, the former oil minister of Saudi Arabia, that political unrest in that country could lead to supply disruption that could push oil prices to $200 or even $300. That was a very irresponsible statement," Gheit said.

Retail gasoline continued to climb, although only three states -- Hawaii, Alaska and California -- were averaging more than $4 a gallon for regular fuel, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

California's average rose 2 cents overnight to $4.094 a gallon, close to $1 a gallon more than the $3.102 it cost a year ago.

The national average rose 2.2 cents to $3.707 a gallon. A year ago, the nation was averaging $2.83 for a gallon of regular gasoline.

-- Ronald D. White