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Gas prices rise to average of $2.55 a gallon

/ Source: The Associated Press

Gasoline prices rose for the sixth week in a row to an average of about $2.55 a gallon nationwide, according to a government report released Monday.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that drivers last week paid an average of $2.559 a gallon for regular gasoline, up 5.4 cents from the week before.

Prices at the pump are about 19 cents higher than they were at this time a year ago, having soared nearly 40 cents, or 18 percent, over the past six weeks.

Retail prices rose most sharply on the West Coast, where prices increased 15.5 cents from the prior week to $2.92 a gallon. That region has the most expensive gasoline, according to the report’s breakdown of average prices by region.

Gasoline prices rose the least in the Midwest, by 2.2 cents to $2.487 a gallon. But Gulf Coast gasoline prices remained the cheapest in the country, at $2.402 a gallon.

After a substantial decline at the start of the year, crude oil prices rebounded and have been trading near the $60-a-barrel level. On Monday, light, sweet crude for April delivery fell $1.14 to settle at $58.91 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

But Nymex gasoline futures have been soaring due to U.S. refinery glitches, declining inventories, and traders betting that demand going into the driving season will be strong enough to support higher prices. Gasoline futures, up more than 20 percent for 2007, rose 0.84 cent to settle at $1.9105 a gallon.