Living near gas flaring sites may increase risk of preterm birth, study shows

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Women living near oil and gas production sites where natural gas is flared may be at a higher risk of giving birth preterm, a team of California researchers reported on Wednesday.

Analysis of more than 23,000 birth records from 2012 through 2015 reveals a 50% higher chance of preterm birth for women living within three miles (5 km) of Texas’ Eagle Ford shale basin than for women who lived farther away, according to the study.

“Our study finds that living near flaring is harmful to pregnant women and babies,” said co-author Jill Johnston, an environmental health scientist at the University of Southern California.

The research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, adds to evidence linking pollution with poorer pregnancy outcomes. Another study in June found a correlation between air pollution or higher outdoor temperatures and increased chances of having a preterm or stillborn baby.

Those findings, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, resulted from analyzing 70 studies covering 32 million births. It also found that black women were disproportionately at risk.

In the new study, by scientists at USC and UCLA, the association between preterm births and flaring proximity was seen only among Hispanic and Latina women, who made up 55% of the study population. No effect was seen among non-Hispanic White women, who comprised 37% of the total. Preterm babies are at higher risk of respiratory and cardiovascular illness, as well as developmental delays.

The team said it was the first to look at birth outcomes in relation to oil and flaring, which has seen a sharp increase in southern Texas’ Eagle Ford and other U.S. shale hubs.

Flares can release chemicals such as benzene, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, along with fine particulate matter, heavy metals and black carbon.

The U.S. drilling industry flared or vented more natural gas in 2019 for the third year in a row, amid soaring production and a lack of regulatory efforts to curb the practice, according to state data and independent research estimates.

When oil prices are low, or when oil fields lack pipeline access, drillers tend to vent or flare gas, which can burn for weeks at a time.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Katy Daigle and Marguerita Choy)

Oklahoma to resume lethal injections after plan to use gas for executions stalls

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Oklahoma intends to resume executions of condemned inmates using lethal injections after suspending capital punishment in 2015 following a series of botched executions, state officials said on Thursday.

The state had been developing a new execution protocol in which it would instead asphyxiate inmates using nitrogen gas, a plan Attorney General Mike Hunter unveiled in 2018.

But development of the new gassing protocol was taking too long and the state has since found a new supply of lethal drugs, Hunter said at a news conference in Oklahoma City alongside Governor Kevin Stitt.

“It is important that the state is implementing our death penalty law with a procedure that is humane and swift for those convicted of the most heinous of crimes,” said Stitt, a Republican.

Lawyers for death-row inmates said the announcement would revive their ongoing challenge to Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol, which they say lacks transparency and breaches the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment in its current form.

“Oklahoma’s history of mistakes and malfeasance reveals a culture of carelessness around executions that should give everyone pause,” Dale Baich, a federal defender representing some of the inmates, said in a statement.

Until 2015, Oklahoma had one of the busiest execution chambers in a country where a majority of states and the federal government allow capital punishment, a practice most countries have abolished.

The state’s executions stopped after serious errors. In 2014, an inmate convulsed and took more than 40 minutes to die after the state used an untested combination of three lethal drugs. In 2015, another inmate was executed using the wrong drug.

Oklahoma is returning to the same three-drug combination used in the botched 2014 execution, Hunter said, but has updated its protocol to include better training and oversight. The drugs are midazolam, a sedative; vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Hunter declined to say how the drugs were being obtained, citing state secrecy laws. He said development of the gassing method would continue in case lethal injection drugs again become unavailable.

The European Union bans the sale of drugs for use in executions, and pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell such drugs to U.S. prison systems. Several states have complained that they are no longer able to obtain the drugs.

There are 47 inmates on Oklahoma’s death row, Hunter said. A federal court ordered the state to give those inmates at least 150 days notice of a new protocol, and no execution dates have been set.

Death-penalty experts criticized the state for not changing the drugs it planned to use.

“No improvement in the protocol will address the fact that midazolam is an inappropriate drug to use in executions,” said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit watchdog group. “Midazolam is not capable of knocking somebody out and keeping them insensate during the period in which other drugs are administered.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Thousands evacuated as Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts

A general view shows Fuego volcano (Volcano of Fire) erupting as seen from San Juan Alotenango, outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated on Monday from areas around Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, which began violently erupting overnight, the country’s disaster agency Conred said.

The volcano spewed out dangerous flows of fast-moving clouds of hot ash, lava and gas early Monday and more than 2,000 people had taken refuge in shelters so far, officials from the agency told reporters. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

More dangerous flows of hot ash and lava could be expelled, said Juan Pablo Oliva, the head of the country’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh.

In June, explosive flows from Fuego killed more than 190 people.

This is the fifth eruption so far this year of the 3,763-meter (12,346-feet) volcano, one of the most active in Central America, about 19 miles (30 km) south of Guatemala City.

(Reporting by Enrique Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio)

Venezuelans rush to shop, fill tanks before monetary overhaul

People line up to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine (ATM) outside a Banco Mercantil branch in Caracas, Venezuela August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Shaylim Castro and Isaac Urrutia

CARACAS/MARACAIBO (Reuters) – Jittery Venezuelans on Friday rushed to shops and lined up at gas stations on concerns that a monetary overhaul to lop off five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation could wreak financial havoc and make basic commerce impossible.

Shoppers sought to ensure their homes were fully stocked with essentials such as food and dry goods and their tanks full before the measure decreed by President Nicolas Maduro takes effect on Monday.

Inflation hit 82,700 percent in July, according to the opposition-run congress, as the country’s socialist economic model continued to unravel, meaning purchases of basic items such as a bar of soap or a kilo of tomatoes require piles of cash that is often difficult to obtain.

“I came to buy vegetables, but I’m leaving because I’m not going to wait in this line,” said Alicia Ramirez, 38, a business administrator, leaving a supermarket in the western city of Maracaibo. “People are going crazy.”

The change appears unlikely to generate the chaos of December 2016 when Maduro removed the largest note in circulation without providing a replacement for it. That led to protests, lootings and hundreds of arrests as the country was effectively left without legal tender.

Drivers also rushed to fill up on Venezuela’s heavily-subsidized gas, the world’s cheapest at around 2,896 gallons per U.S. penny. Some drivers were worried about paying for gas come Monday as there will be no new legal tender small enough to pay for a full tank.

Maduro also said this month that gas price should be increased, but has not provided a timeframe for the price hike. A half-dozen sources at service stations said they had not been briefed about any changes and were not expecting an imminent rise in prices.

A gas station worker pumps gas into a car at a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

A gas station worker pumps gas into a car at a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

“It’s better to be safe than to try to go out during the weekend and not to find open gas stations… I think people are more sad than angry about this,” said teacher Ana Perez, 50, as she lined up in a station in the once industry-filled city of Valencia.

Maduro, who has said the country is victim of an “economic war” led by political adversaries, said the new monetary measure would bring economic stability to the struggling OPEC nation.

But his critics have said the move is little more than an accounting maneuver that would do nothing to slow soaring prices. They blame inflation on failed socialist policies and indiscriminate money printing.

Because many transactions now happen via debit cards over point-of-sale terminals, many worry that the change – which banking industry leaders have said was carried out too quickly – could collapse financial networks.

Maduro has declared a public holiday for Monday when a new set of bills will be introduced with the lower denominations. Internet banking operations will be halted for several hours starting on Sunday evening.

But the primary difference between the upcoming change and Maduro’s 2016 currency decision is that in this instance, most of the current ones will coexist with the new notes for an undetermined period while the new bills come into circulation.

That will in some circumstances leave consumers in the confusing situation of having to use old bills with face value of 1,000,000 bolivars to make purchases valued at 10 bolivars in the new denomination.

Poor Venezuelans without bank accounts have for months been carrying wads of cash to make basic purchases.

Buying one kilo of cheese, worth the equivalent of $1.14 at the most widely used exchange rate, requires 7,500 notes of 1,000 bolivar denomination – a note that was only brought fully into circulation in 2017.

One bar of soap, which sells for the equivalent of $0.53, requires 3,500 of the same notes.

“This is going to be complete disaster, we don’t have information,” said Yoleima Manrique, 42, assistant manager of a home appliance store in Caracas. “It’s going to be crazy for the clients and for us.”

(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City, Mayela Armas, Deisy Buitrago and Corina Pons in Caracas, Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal, Maria Ramirez in Puerto Ordaz, and Tibisay Romero in Valencia; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Diane Craft)

In Guatemala, woman searches for 50 relatives buried by volcano

Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the eruption of the Fuego volcano, argues with a police officer trying to enter to search for her family in San Miguel Los Lotes Escuintla, June 9, 2018. Picture taken June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Sofia Menchu

SAN MIGUEL LOS LOTES, Guatemala (Reuters) – Eufemia Garcia watched in horror as Guatemala’s Fuego volcano sent scalding ash and gas surging over her home a week ago, burying her children and grandson among 50 of her extended family. She has been searching for their remains ever since.

At least 110 people died after Fuego erupted last Sunday, pushing fast-moving currents of dust, lava and gas down the volcano’s slopes in its greatest eruption in four decades, and close to 200 more are believed buried beneath the waste.

Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the eruption of the Fuego volcano, looks at rescue workers as they search for her family in San Miguel Los Lotes, Escuintla, June 9, 2018. Picture taken June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the eruption of the Fuego volcano, looks at rescue workers as they search for her family in San Miguel Los Lotes, Escuintla, June 9, 2018. Picture taken June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Among them, Garcia believes, her nine siblings and their families as well as her mother, her own grown-up children and a grandson, making her family possibly the hardest hit in a disaster that officials admit was made worse by delays in official warnings.

The hamlet of San Miguel Los Lotes on the lush southern flank of the volcano was almost completely swallowed by several meters of ash, and formal search efforts have been suspended until the still-erupting volcano stabilizes.

Defying the suspension order, each morning, Garcia, 48, leaves the shelter she now sleeps in, grabs a pickaxe or a shovel and heads into the danger zone, where groups of volunteers and other families dig down through ash hardened by rain and sun to try and reach their homes below.

Another desperate survivor, Bryan Rivera, is searching for 13 missing relatives. All he has found so far in the dust and desolation is a guitar his 12-year-old sister had loved to play.

“I’m not going to give up until I have a part of my family and am able to give them a Christian burial,” Garcia said, her features drawn with fatigue and grief but her voice unfaltering.

A fruit seller who lived for more than three decades with her extended family in Los Lotes, Garcia said she was out purchasing eggs when she saw the volcanic flow racing toward her village.

She sprinted back to her family’s homes, where uncles and a brother, children and cousins were preparing for a lunch to celebrate a sister visiting from a nearby town.

Rapping furiously at one door after the next, she cried for them to flee. Few heeded the warnings. Her 75-year-old mother decided she could not outrun the danger.

Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the eruption of the Fuego volcano, points the area where use to be her house in San Miguel Los Lotes Escuintla, June 9, 2018. Picture taken June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the eruption of the Fuego volcano, points the area where use to be her house in San Miguel Los Lotes Escuintla, June 9, 2018. Picture taken June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

“Let God’s will be done,” she said.

Desperate, Garcia ran, jumping over fences together with fleeing neighbors. From a safe distance, she saw the burning flow rise to the roof of her house, submerging it completely with her son Jaime, 21, inside. She watched as the ash rushed toward her daughter Vilma Liliana, 23, who sprinted for safety barefoot but was unable to outpace its terrible path.

Her other daughter Sheiny Rosmery, 28, stayed at home, her son in her arms. The visiting sister and her husband have not been found.

With almost no family left, she does not know where she will live next, or what she will do to survive. But for now, she says, all that matters is the search.

She ticks off a list of her missing, including her three children, her mother, her grandson, brothers, sisters, nephews, children of nephews and brothers-in-law, generations of a relatives among the clutch of families that settled in Los Lotes in the 1970s.

The only survivors are Garcia and a brother who long ago moved away.

“I’ve looked here in the morgue and in another morgue, but there is no sign of them,” she said, standing in front of a row of coffins at a makeshift mortuary.

“My family is buried. All 50 of them.”

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Lisa Shumaker)

New volcano fissures force more evacuations on Hawaii’s Big Island

Steam rises from a new fissure in Puna, Hawaii, U.S. in this still image from video taken on May 8, 2018. Apau Hawaii Tours/Social Media via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Emergency crews ordered Hawaii residents to leave their homes after two new fissures opened up near the Kilauea volcano, almost a week after it started a series of huge explosions.

People in the Lanipuna Gardens neighborhood in the southeast corner of Big Island were told there was an “immediate danger”.

“The residents … are going through a very difficult time. We ask for your understanding. We ask for your help,” the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency said in an alert.

Deposits are seen on a road in Puna, Hawaii, U.S. in this still image from video taken on May 8, 2018. Apau Hawaii Tours/Social Media via REUTERS

Deposits are seen on a road in Puna, Hawaii, U.S. in this still image from video taken on May 8, 2018. Apau Hawaii Tours/Social Media via REUTERS

Kilauea started spewing fountains of lava as high as 300 feet (90 meters) into the air on Thursday. Walls of molten rock destroyed houses in the southeastern corner of the island as deadly volcanic gases rose through cracks in the earth.

Around 1,700 people have already been ordered to leave their properties. No deaths or major injuries have been reported. But two new fissures – the 13th and 14th – formed on Tuesday and started releasing toxic gases, the agency said.

A total of 36 structures have been torched by the lava, which can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius).

Lava has been bubbling out of about 2-1/2 miles (4 km) of fissures that officials have warned are slowly spreading eastwards.

On Friday, the southeastern corner of the island was rocked by a powerful magnitude 6.9 earthquake on the volcano’s south flank, the strongest since 1975, and more quakes and eruptions have been forecast, perhaps for months to come.

Kilauea has been in a state of nearly constant eruption since 1983.

 

 

 

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Hawaii; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

‘Go now’, Hawaii residents warned as eruptions spread

Lava advances along a street near a fissure in Leilani Estates, on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone, Hawaii, the U.S., May 5, 2018. U.S. Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Emergency authorities battling lava flows and gas erupting from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano told some residents to “Go now” as a new fissure opened and more structures were destroyed.

Kilauea has destroyed 26 homes and forced 1,700 people to leave their residences since it erupted on Thursday, spewing lava and toxic gas from volcanic vents in a small area of Hawaii’s Big Island.

A new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii, U.S., May 5, 2018. US Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

A new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii, U.S., May 5, 2018. US Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

A new fissure opened on Sunday night in the Leilani Estates area some 12 miles from the volcano, prompting a cellphone alert for residents to leave homes to avoid sulfur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.So far no fatalities or major injuries have been reported from the volcano, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

Evacuees from Leilani Estates were allowed to return for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday, but some like Jeremy Wilson found homes surrounded by fissures that can be hundreds of feet long.

“My house is right in the middle,” said Wilson, who turned back in his car when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road ahead.

The semi-rural wooded area of Leilani Estates had become a magnet for newcomers to Hawaii’s Big Island who were prepared to risk living near to an active volcano in return for more affordable real-estate prices.

Eruptions of lava and gas were expected to continue, along with aftershocks from Friday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest in the area since 1975, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. A lava flow advanced 0.6 of a mile from one of the vents.

Lava emerges from the ground after Kilauea Volcano erupted, on Hawaii's Big Island May 3, 2018, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jeremiah Osuna/via REUTERS

Lava emerges from the ground after Kilauea Volcano erupted, on Hawaii’s Big Island May 3, 2018, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jeremiah Osuna/via REUTERS

Geologists said the activity looked like an event in 1955 when eruptions continued for 88 days in the area and covered around 4,000 acres with lava.

Jessica Gauthier, 47, said she and other local realtors had seen vacation renters cancel their reservations, even though the volcanic activity is confined to a relatively isolated area far from tourist centers.

“There’s no way to know that if you’re sitting in your living room in Ohio and watching the national news,” she said.

Gauthier predicted business would pick up as a new kind of visitor began to appear.

 

County workers deliver cots and blankets to an evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

County workers deliver cots and blankets to an evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“Within a month we’ll start getting lava tourists,” she said of people who come to Hawaii to see its active volcanoes.

Hawaii County authorities requested lava watchers keep away.

“This is not the time for sightseeing. You can help tremendously by staying out of the area,” the civil defense agency said in a statement.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Writing by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Toby Chopra)

Lootings, scattered protests hit Venezuelan industrial city

A general view of the damage at a mini-market after it was looted in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela January 9, 2018.

By Maria Ramirez

CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela (Reuters) – A second day of lootings and scattered street protests hit the Ciudad Guayana in southeastern Venezuela on Tuesday, as unrest grows in the once-booming industrial city plagued with food shortages and a malaria outbreak.

At least five food stores were looted overnight, with police sources saying some 20 people had been arrested. Angry Venezuelans also blocked three major roads to demand anti-malaria medicine, food, cooking gas and spare parts for trucks.

There has been increasing unrest around the South American OPEC member in the last few weeks as a fourth straight year of painful recession and the world’s highest inflation leaves millions unable to eat enough.

Erika Garcia tearfully recounted how looters ransacked her food shop and home just 10 minutes after National Guard soldiers who had been patrolling the area withdrew late on Monday night.

“They stole everything. They broke off the water pipes, they ripped off the toilet bowl, they took away the windows, the fences, the doors, the beds. Everything. They did not kill us because we ran, but they did beat us up,” said Garcia, 38, who planned to sleep at a relative’s house on Tuesday night

She said there was no way she could reopen her store.

The overnight lootings follow at least four similar in the early hours of Monday. Around 10 liquor stores were also looted on Christmas day in southeastern Bolivar state, according to the local chamber of commerce head Florenzo Schettino.

Critics blame President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party for Venezuela’s economic mess, saying they have persisted with failed statist policies for too long while turning a blind eye to rampant corruption and suffering.

The government says it is the victim of an “economic war” by political opponents and right-wing foreign powers, intent on bringing down Maduro in a coup. The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the lootings on Tuesday.

The wave of plunder has spooked many in Ciudad Guyana, leading more people to stay indoors come nightfall and dissuading some stores from opening.

Metal worker Alvaro Becerra lives near a store that was ransacked overnight.

“We lived a night of terror,” said Becerra, 52, adding he heard gunshots and saw people carrying a freezer full of food.

“Today everything is closed. There’s no place to buy. The only people who are working are those who sell vegetables,” he said.

(Reporting by Maria Ramirez; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

California would increase fuel taxes under $52 billion road repair plan

FILE PHOTO: Gasoline drips off a nozzle during refueling at a gas station in Altadena, California March 24, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California would increase gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades to fund an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s sagging infrastructure under a deal announced Wednesday.

The deal between fiscally moderate Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and leaders of the majority Democrat legislature would increase the excise tax on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon from the current $0.28, and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon, among other fees, over 10 years to pay for repairs to roads and bridges as well as for anti-congestion projects.

“Let’s be clear – our roads suck,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who represents blue-collar suburbs south of Los Angeles at a news conference announcing the deal. “Our bridges are crumbling and traffic takes time away from our families. Delays cost businesses money.”

California’s transportation systems have languished unrepaired and unexpanded for decades, as budget constraints and politics have stymied plans by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Brown, a fiscal moderate credited with bringing the state back from a $27 billion budget gap, has refused to sign on to plans that involve borrowing money, and Republicans and some moderate Democrats have resisted raising gasoline taxes.

But the same Democratic wave that led California to go two-for-one in favor of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last November gave the party a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature, enough to pass new taxes without Republican support.

The deal won support of construction companies and labor unions, and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday put up a unified front on what had been a divisive issue over raising taxes.

Under it, owners of electric vehicles would have to pay a $100 fee to help repair roads even though they don’t use gasoline and would not pay the gas tax. The fees and taxes would raise about $5.2 billion per year.

Republicans condemned the plan, saying transportation taxes and fees were already among the highest in the country.

“The transportation proposal announced by the Capitol Democrats is a costly and burdensome plan that forces ordinary Californians to bail out Sacramento for years of neglecting our roads,” Republican leaders said in a joint statement.

Their opposition means that if even a few moderate Democrats defect, the package could fail. Brown urged support.

“This is like fixing the roof on your house,” the governor said. “If you don’t fix the house, your furniture will be ruined. The rug will be destroyed. The wood will rot.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by James Dalgleish)

U.S. import prices moderate on cheap fuel

A woman pumps gas at a station in Falls Church, Virginia December 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) – U.S. import price increases slowed in February on cheap fuel, but there were signs of a pickup in underlying imported inflation.

The Labor Department said on Thursday import prices rose 0.2 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.6 percent increase in January. It was the third straight monthly increase.

In the 12 months through February, import prices accelerated 4.6 percent, the largest gain since February 2012, after rising 3.8 percent in January.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices ticking up 0.1 percent last month after a previously reported 0.4 percent increase in January.

Last month’s moderation in import prices is likely to be temporary amid strengthening global demand that is lifting prices for oil and other commodities.

Prices for imported fuels fell 0.7 percent last month after surging 7.2 percent in January. Import prices excluding fuels rose 0.3 percent. That was the first increase since July and followed a 0.1 percent dip the prior month.

The cost of imported food jumped 1.0 percent last month. Prices for imported capital goods were unchanged after slipping 0.1 percent in January. Imported consumer goods prices excluding automobiles increased 0.2 percent last month after a similar gain in January.

The report also showed export prices increased 0.3 percent in February after gaining 0.2 percent in January. Export prices were up 3.1 percent from a year ago. That was the biggest increase since December 2011 and followed a 2.4 percent rise in January.

Prices for agricultural exports increased 1.4 percent last month, boosted by rising vegetable prices, as well as higher prices for soybeans and corn. Agricultural export prices rose 0.1 percent in January.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)