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Senator asks for data on sharp gasoline price rise

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) speaks to the media after the Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 18, 2012. R
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) speaks to the media after the Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 18, 2012. R

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Senate Energy Committee on Monday asked the federal government's energy statistics arm to provide data explaining the recent spike in gasoline prices, which has taken place despite huge increases domestic oil production.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, asked the Energy Information Administration for details about the rapid climb in gasoline costs as he prepares to hold a hearing on the subject at an unspecified date this spring.

The national price of gasoline began edging up in December, but surged near the end of January, jumping nearly 43 cents per gallon in four weeks, according the EIA data.

At the same time, U.S. oil output has been booming. In 2012 oil production posted its largest yearly increase since commercial crude oil development began in the 1850s.

"For many Americans, there appears to be a fundamental disconnect between these facts, especially when many families are also using less gasoline thanks to more efficient cars and trucks," Wyden said in a letter to EIA head Adam Sieminski.

Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are expected to continue to push oil production higher. Crude oil output is expected to rise another 810,000 barrels per day in 2013 to 7.25 million bpd.

Retail gasoline prices have fallen for two straight weeks, dipping in the latest week by nearly 5 cents per gallon to $3.71, the EIA in its weekly report on Monday.

Submitting more than two dozen questions regarding U.S. oil supply and consumption, Wyden asked about trends in the export and import of oil products, changes in refinery capacity and the effect of gasoline prices on fuel use.

Wyden also questioned whether there have been any significant disruptions in petroleum transportation by pipeline, barge or rail that might have pushed up prices.

Noting that the government issued a waiver to the Jones Act to relieve a fuel supply crunch in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Wyden asked whether waivers have been used to relieve other transportation constraints.

The Jones Act prohibits foreign-flagged vessels from shipping gasoline and other petroleum products between U.S. ports.

Some people have raised concerns that without a pipeline linking the U.S. East Coast to the shale boom in the center of the country, and given the lack of U.S. vessels to transport gasoline from Gulf of Mexico refineries, states on the East Coast will be forced to rely on expensive imported oil.

The EIA is the independent, data-gathering arm of the Energy Department. The agency does not take positions on policy issues.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Ros Krasny and Dan Grebler)

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