February 21, 2012 / 11:11 PM / in 6 years

UPDATE 1-US gasoline prices surge as election battle heats up

* Republicans draw battle lines over gas prices

* Gasoline prices above $4 a gallon in Calif.

* Oil prices at nine-month high (Recasts, adds details, background)

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - U.S. gasoline prices surged nearly 7 cents in the past week, the U.S. government said, as steadily rising fuel prices jumped to the forefront in the U.S. election campaign.

The national price of unleaded gasoline climbed 6.8 cents to an average $3.59 a gallon in the last week, the Energy Information Administration said on Tuesday in its weekly survey.

With the 2012 campaign season in full swing, Republicans are criticizing the Obama administration’s energy policies as a key reason for rising prices at the pump.

Gasoline prices have already passed the $4 mark in California after jumping 20 cents in the past week on the idling of the third-largest refinery on the West Coast.

When gasoline prices surged to a record $4.11 a gallon nationally during the summer of 2008, Republicans tapped consumer anger and forced Congress to lift a decades-old ban on oil drilling off the east and west coasts.

With gasoline prices again on the rise, Republicans have blasted the Obama administration for pulling back on efforts to begin drilling in the areas where the ban was lifted and for delaying the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The White House has defended itself against these charges by noting that U.S. oil production has climbed significantly since 2008.

Oil production in the United States is projected to reach 5.83 million barrels per day this year, the highest level since 1999.

The administration has also touted a so-called “all-in” energy strategy that they say offers support for traditional fossil fuels as well as renewables.

As the summer driving season approaches, oil prices show no sign of abating, however.

U.S. oil prices, which account for most of the price of gasoline, reached a nine-month high near $106 a barrel on Tuesday as Iran supply fears and a second bailout for Greece bolstered prices. (Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jim Marshall)

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