(July 21) After a bit of a respite for a few weeks, diesel fuel prices have slowly climbed again over the last couple of weeks.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the national average price for diesel was $1.744 the week of July 18. That’s only up .004 cent from the week before, but it’s up nearly 3 cents from July 4, and more than 30 cents from the same week in 2003.

What’s more, that price is only 2.7 cents below the record high of $1.771 that was set in March 2003.

California, at $2.096 per gallon, is still seeing the highest prices in the country, although its price dropped more than 1 cent from the week before. California prices also are more than 45 cents higher than what they were at the same time in 2003.

The cheapest price is in the Gulf Coast region, where the average came in at $1.674 per gallon, up less than 1 cent from the week before.

Meanwhile, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has agreed to increase its daily production by 500,000 barrels, or 2%, effective Aug. 1. That decision came after the group had already increased its output by 2 million barrels a day on July 1.

But even this may not be enough.

The Associated Press reported that analysts did not expect the increase to do much good. Most OPEC nations already are at full production levels, and prices have yet to be affected.

A host of factors is blamed for the price increase, including ongoing strife in Nigeria and Venezuela, sabotage on pipelines in Iraq and legal troubles for Yukos, Russia’s biggest oil company.

On July 19, OPEC issued its first forecast for 2005, predicting that demand would not slow in the next several months.