Gas prices across Nevada and California have increased sharply in the past two weeks and are much higher than the national average, according to an American Automobile Association survey announced Tuesday.
The association usually releases its survey of gas prices at mid-month, but the rapid increase prompted a special month-end survey.
The national average price for unleaded regular gas this week was $1.42 a gallon, but the Reno price was $1.68, a 17-cent increase since Feb. 15, according to AAA Nevada spokesman Paul Moreno. The price in Las Vegas was $1.58, an 11-cent increase.
The special survey did not include prices for Carson City. But a survey of 10 Carson City stations Tuesday by the Nevada Appeal yielded an average price of $1.63.
Higher gas prices are being attributed increasing costs of crude oil, blamed in turn on oil production limits set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The cuts have caused oil prices to soar, from $11.37 a year ago to a nine-year high of around $30 a barrel and the highest average U.S. gasoline prices ever.
Some analysts expect OPEC to loosen production limits at its March 27 meeting in Vienna, Austria, Moreno said. But increased summer demand may prevent any price benefit at the pumps.
The oil supply, resulting high gasoline prices and a shortage of fuel oil for heating have caught the attention of the President.
President Clinton said Tuesday he may tap the nation's emergency petroleum supplies if he can find no other way to reduce oil and gas prices, the Associated Press reported.
''I have not taken the petroleum reserve issue off the table, and I certainly wouldn't do that in the event that we don't seem to have any other options,'' Clinton said before leaving the White House for a political trip to Florida.
Clinton's remark seemed to contradict previous administration statements, including a declaration Monday by White House spokesman Joe Lockhart that ''at this point in time, that's not an option that we're considering.''
Another White House spokesman, Jim Kennedy, said Tuesday that while using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a possibility, ''that doesn't mean it's being considered for use in the current context.''
''He was not saying, or intending to say, anything new,'' Kennedy said.
Another factor blamed for higher West Coast prices is reduced output from refineries. Moreno reported a series of planned and unplanned refinery shutdowns have reduced gasoline inventories to unusually low levels.
That echoes the situation of about a year ago, when refinery problems in the Bay area seriously reduced gasoline production outputs. A March 1999 explosion at the Tosco refinery in Benecia and safety-related shutdowns at other refineries preceded a run-up of gas prices that peaked in August with the price in Reno reaching $1.73.
Several lawmakers from the Northeast, where fuel oil prices have risen to extreme levels, have urged the administration to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a stockpile of government-controlled oil.
Tuesday prices for unleaded regular gas
Bob's Texaco 705 N. Carson $1.72
Carson City Shell 1600 N. Carson $1.74
Eagle Gas 2152 N. Carson $1.56
Short Stop Market 1321 N. Carson $1.70
AM-PM 720 S. Carson $1.56
AM-PM 2707 Hwy. 50 East $1.55
AM-PM 4340 N. Carson $1.55
7-Eleven 3838 Hwy. 50 East $1.60
7-Eleven 3701 N. Carson $1.60
Winner's Corner 1400 Rand Ave. $1.74
Average price $1.63