Gas prices crept up overnight, leaving the average in the five-county Philadelphia area at $2.56, or a penny more than yesterday.

AAA Mid-Atlantic also reported that South Jersey's average for a gallon of regular no-lead was at $2.38, also up 1 cent.

The national average stood today at $2.55, up 2 cents.

Since the beginning of the year, the Philadelphia area's gas average has increased 52 percent, said Catherine L. Rossi, manager of public and government affairs for the auto club.

"The cost of a fill-up has soared to the highest level in nearly seven months and motorists have taken notice," Rossi said. "The good news is that we don't expect to continue to see rapidly escalating prices this summer. The wholesale price of gas is extremely high right now and motorists are paying the price."

Today, 26 states - unchanged from yesterday - and Washington had an average gas price of $2.50 or higher.

Diesel prices also headed upward overnight, with the Philly average at $2.63 a gallon - up 2 cents.

South Jersey was averaging $2.29, also up 2 cents.

The national diesel average was up 3 cents overnight, to $2.42.

Meanwhile, a weeklong rally in energy prices appeared to stumble, with more evidence of anemic demand.

Oil prices fell toward $67 after the government reported that the level of unused crude in storage rose sharply. That could suggest that a price rally that began in May was premature.

Benchmark crude for July delivery dropped $1.31 to $67.24 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract on Tuesday slipped 3 cents to settle at $68.55.

It is typical for energy prices to rise around this time of year, but there have been questions about whether market fundamentals support the pace of soaring costs this time around.