LOS ANGELES, CA – Analysts are hoping for relief in the days to come from what has proven to be the highest gas prices in California history.
California motorists saw average prices hit a record $4.655 a gallon statewide for regular on Sunday. According to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, that’s a jump by 17 cents a gallon from Friday and 48 cents a gallon from a month ago. In Los Angeles the pain at the pump was even worse with overnight prices up 3.5 cents to an average of $4.893.
Many major brand and independent prices were well above $5.00 a gallon for regular. The California price monitoring site, GasBuddy.com, showed prices as high as $6 a gallon at one independent retailer in Simi Valley, and more than a dozen others with prices ranging from $5.39 to $5.79 a gallon.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked the Federal Trade Commission today to investigate whether gas prices in the state were being illegally manipulated. “California’s consumers are all too familiar with energy price spikes which cannot be explained by market fundamentals, and which turn out years later to have been the result of malicious and manipulative trading activity,” she said.
Petroleum analysts say California’s problems have been made worse by a combination of reduced production at refineries and an annual shift from a summer gasoline blend to a winter blend with fewer additives.California’s standards for refined gasoline exceed federal standards, so oil companies cannot just send gasoline refined in other states to shore up California’s troubled supply.
Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state smog regulators Sunday to allow winter-blend gasoline to be sold in California earlier than usual to help drive prices down. Winter-blend gas typically isn’t sold until after October 31. Few refineries outside the state are currently making summer-blend gas, putting the pressure on already-taxed California manufacturers.
Last week’s price surge followed a shutdown at a refinery in Torrence, California, that is expected to resume production this week. Supplies were already weak as a result of an early August fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. In addition, several other refineries have been hit with maintenance problems.
Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry trade group, said California’s gasoline market is always closely balanced. Any disruption at 14 refineries in the state meeting, or commodity traders’ worries over supply, can trigger volatility in prices, he said.
“Replacing lost production is more difficult here,” said Hull. “It takes a little longer than it does in other parts of the country. You can’t just redirect product in the pipeline like you can in almost every other market.”
Rising prices have also led to a rash of gasoline thefts.In Roseville, California, police are seeking two people suspected of stealing 750 gallons of gasoline from a Shell station, said Police Sgt. Jeff Kool. He said thieves somehow defeated the gasoline pump’s meter controls and filled external tanks in a pickup during visits in the early-morning hours over three days.