Gas prices hit record $3.26, diesel at $4.06

NEW YORK Sun Mar 23, 2008 4:19pm EDT

A customer fills a car's tank at a gas station approximately one mile from the White House in Washington March 11, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing

A customer fills a car's tank at a gas station approximately one mile from the White House in Washington March 11, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The average price of a gallon of gas in the United States has risen to a record $3.26, and the cost of diesel fuel has soared to a record $4.06 a gallon, adding to pressure on consumers and the companies that deliver their goods.

The national average price for self-serve regular unleaded gas rose 6.9 cents to $3.2645 a gallon on March 21 from $3.1955 two weeks earlier, according to the nationwide Lundberg Survey of about 7,000 gas stations.

The price surpassed the previous inflation-adjusted high set last May 18, when gas cost $3.1827 a gallon. Diesel fuel prices soared 26.75 cents, or 7 percent, to an average $4.0630 per gallon from $3.7955 two weeks earlier.

"Spring demand is awakening, putting pressure on price," Trilby Lundberg, who compiles the Lundberg Survey, said in an interview on Sunday. "It would take a several dollars' decline in the price of a barrel of oil to avoid seeing pump prices shoot up from here."

The average price of gas nationwide could soon flirt with $3.50 a gallon, she said, with instances of $4 gas becoming "increasingly common."

Pump prices rose as refiners passed on more costs to consumers, despite a sharp decline in crude oil futures as part of a broad sell-off of commodities. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude for May delivery settled the week below $102 per barrel, after on Monday having traded north of $110.

Lundberg said there is no proof yet that rising gas prices have convinced people to drive less.

But she said, "The diesel price is really the one that plays into the overall health of the economy, because it's used to move goods from coast to coast."

According to the Camarillo, California-based survey, drivers in the San Francisco area paid the highest price in the country, an average $3.66 a gallon for gas, while drivers in Newark, New Jersey, paid the least, $3.03 a gallon.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)

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