Thursday, July 9, 2015

Southern California motorists could see gasoline prices soar by 30 cents per gallon

A man pumps gas at the Arco AMPM at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Nordhoff Street in Chatsworth. Staff file photo
Chevron’s refinery in Richmond also did an unplanned shutdown in April for flaring, which occurs when too much pressure builds up due to over-pressurizing of equipment and flammable gas is released through pressure-relief valves.
Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based consumer advocacy group, has alleged that oil refiners are gouging California motorists by charging branded stations an average of 30 cents more per gallon than unbranded stations.
The organization presented its analysis last week at a meeting in Berkeley with the California Energy Commission Petroleum Market Advisory Committee.
Southern California motorists soon will feel the sting of higher gasoline prices — prices that could rise as much as 30 cents a gallon.
A report released Wednesday from the Energy Information Administration details a “perfect storm” that shows the West Coast’s gasoline inventory fell by more than a million barrels last week while fuel imports into the region dropped to zero for the first time since March.
Shortly after Wednesday’s report was released, wholesale prices for Los Angeles CARB-mandated gas spiked. Average retail prices in Southern California could rise 10 cents or more over the next 24 to 48 hours, according to And the fuel-price tracker said prices will likely be 15 to 30 cents more per gallon by next week.
But before you rush out to the nearest pump, GasBuddy is advising motorists that filling up unnecessarily may further boost prices.
Allison Mac, a West Coast petroleum analyst with GasBuddy, said it’s hard to tell where prices might go after next week.
“Anything could happen,” she said. “Prices are like a roller coaster in Southern California but they could drop again if we get more imports coming in.”
When viewed through a longer lens, the current prices aren’t so bad.
The average price for regular gas in Los Angeles County was $3.54 a gallon on Wednesday, down 21 cents from a month ago and down 63 cents from the year-ago price of $4.18 a gallon.
San Bernardino County has seen a similar trend. The average price there was $3.47 a gallon on Wednesday. That was down 22 cents from a month ago and down 67 cents from a year earlier.
Mac said the decline in gasoline inventory for the West Coast is likely tied to reduced production at California refineries.
“This has been one of the worst years with refineries,” she said. “We had all of those problems earlier this year, and on top that a labor strike. And we had a refinery explosion — that doesn’t happen every year.”
California has certainly weathered its share of refinery problems.
The ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance suffered an equipment failure in mid-February which resulted in an explosion that injured four people. That facility is still not producing gas, according to Mac.
Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez shut down on Feb. 1 when steelworkers at the facility joined in a nationwide strike. The facility was later restarted, but a processing unit was briefly shut down in mid April, although it has since resumed operation.
The group also says oil refiners are drawing deep profits from gasoline price spikes.
Figures from the California Energy Commission show that the state had 4.5 million barrels of the state’s specially formulated gas in stock for the week ending Friday. That was down 1.4 percent from the previous week and down 1.1 percent from a year earlier.
Regardless of the reason, Southern Californians aren’t happy to learn that gas prices will soon be heading north again.
“We just pay the price and hope that we’ll get more sales to make up for it,” said Faye Sokolsky, an office manager at Michael’s Furniture Warehouse in Panorama City. “It’s not something we like to dwell on.”
Michael’s averages about 100 deliveries a week, according to Sokolsky, and most of those are done through a delivery service.
Many Southland motorists are likely grumbling at the thought higher gas prices. But Steve Lubanski, who owns the Open Road Bicycle Shop in Pasadena, isn’t one of them.
“I’m lucky because I only drive three miles a day to work,” the Pasadena resident said. “I spend $10 to $12 a week on gas at the most, so I’m barely on the fringe of what you’d consider to be a commuter.”

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