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Gas prices near a Labor Day weekend record

/ Source: The Associated Press

Gasoline is nearly the highest it's ever been for this time of year, just ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

The run-up in oil prices this year, combined with a rash of refining problems throughout the U.S., has boosted pump prices. The national average on Thursday was $3.629 per gallon. Drivers will pay more for gasoline this Sept. 1 than in any other year except 2008, when pump prices hit an average of $3.686.

Retail gasoline prices are rising in the U.S. even though motorists are buying less. Analysts say they have been pushed higher by a steady rise in international gasoline demand. Americans may be using less, but drivers in developing nations are using more.

"It's all part of being in a global market," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

Americans are using so little gasoline that the U.S. has been a net exporter of refined fuels to other countries for the past nine weeks. That's typical for OPEC countries, but it's extremely rare for the U.S. "You have to go back years and years," Kloza said. "I haven't found a time when we've been a net exporter for that many weeks."

Most of those exports head to Mexico and Canada. The U.S. also sends fuel to dozens of other countries; including the Netherlands, Singapore, Japan, Ecuador, Panama, Chile and Colombia.

In the energy markets Thursday, benchmark oil rose 12 cents to finish at $88.93 per barrel in New York, while Brent crude lost 56 cents to end at $114.29 in London.

Heating oil fell 3.22 cents to finish at $3.0518 per gallon and gasoline futures rose 1.64 cents to end the day at $2.8927 per gallon. Natural gas was unchanged at $4.05 per 1,000 cubic feet.