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Spurred by dwindling gasoline prices and growing demand, and exacerbated by heavy speculator activity, oil futures prices for West Texas Intermediate crude shot past $38/bbl on the New York Mercantile Exchange. This was a 13-year high for WTI, a level not seen since October 1990 in the run-up to the Persian Gulf War. Given the low, US crude and gasoline inventory stocks, plus growing demand (up to 8.9 million bpd of gasoline in the US) and competition for supplies from countries like China, prices were not expected to go down any time soon. Gasoline prices averaged near $1.75/gal across the US, and predictions for the summer driving season averaged $2/gal or higher. At the same time, Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told attendees at an industry conference in Cairo that “we have the consensus to cut (output) in April,” a reference to OPEC's February decision to lower its ceiling.
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