(March 12) Like the temperature in a pot of water that’s about to boil over, diesel prices across the country continued to rise the week of March 9.

According to the Department of Energy, the national average cost of diesel continued to extend its record level to $1.771 per gallon on March 10, up from $1.753 the week before.

Hardest hit once more was the East Coast, where prices soared above $2 per gallon in some areas of New England. Prices in the Central Atlantic states have risen above $1.95 per gallon while California’s prices averaged out at $1.86.

Transport Topics newspaper reported the trucking industry paid an estimated $465 million more in fuel costs the week of March 2 than it did during the same week in 2002.

TRUCK SHORTAGES

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported truck shortages the week of March 9 in some growing areas, such as Washington state, because of high fuel costs. Shipping costs out of those areas, however, have grown only slightly since the previous week.

Neil Galone, vice president of fresh sales for Snokist Growers Inc., Yakima, Wash., said his company hasn’t had a particular problem getting trucks, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t change in the near future.

“If the rates keep going up we’ll (have a problem),” he said. “Because then some of these guys are going to have to park their trucks.”

Galone said he has had to pay a little more for shipping apples, and he doesn’t expect those costs to go down until fuel prices do.

“(The truckers) are trying to pass along the costs,” he said. “These guys are struggling, but they were struggling before.”

POSSIBILITY OF WAR

Crude oil prices have continued their steady increase as the U.S. inches closer to a war with Iraq. On March 12, prices jumped more than a dollar to $37.80 per barrel following the release of an Energy Department report which stated that U.S. oil inventories were nearing a 28-year low.

The report said inventories were at 269.8 million barrels, 16% lower than they were at the same time last year. Bloomberg news service reported that analysts had been expecting increased imports from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to bolster supplies. But political unrest in Venezuela has decreased the amount of oil that country is exporting.

Meanwhile, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has pledged to keep output quotas in place following two increases earlier this year. In other words, the group is going to wait until a war with Iraq starts before boosting supplies.

Currently, OPEC is producing 24.5 million barrels a day, and has said it will stay that way until there is a war or other disruption of supplies in the Middle East.

But even if OPEC does boost production, it may not be enough if an attack on Iraq stops oil output from that nation, according to the International Energy Agency.

Bloomberg reported that Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries in the region have 900,000 barrels of oil output that is idle. Iraq’s exports averaged 1.73 million barrels a day in February.