LOS ANGELES Oct 6 Gasoline prices in California
hit record levels on Saturday, after an unprecedented surge in
pump prices propelled by a perfect storm of factors that drove
inventories in the region down to near-historic lows.
The average cost of a gallon of gas in the state stood at
$4.614, edging past the previous record of $4.61 set in 2008,
according to figures from AAA.
But prices topped $5 a gallon in some locations. On
Saturday, a local NBC station showed one downtown Los Angeles
gas station selling regular grade at $5.49 a gallon.
Average prices in the Golden State were $4.145 a week ago,
AAA data show.
The abrupt price spike has shocked California's car-loving
residents, and left some retailers in Los Angeles scrambling for
supplies. Signs have emerged that the run-up in prices could
soon end, but motorists may think twice about hitting the road
"I think $5 is kind of hitting the limit," driver Genoush
Tunian told the local CBS station in Los Angeles.
A series of events have conspired to limit supplies, causing
gas inventories in the West Coast region to fall this week to
their third-lowest level in 20 years on a seasonal basis,
government data shows.
A fire closed Chevron Corp's Richmond, California,
refinery during the summer. A Chevron pipeline that carries
crude oil from the state's Central Valley to refineries in the
San Francisco Bay area has also been closed since mid-September.
MOVE TO WINTER BLEND
More recently, Phillips 66 shut two plants to
conduct planned maintenance, while a power outage hit Exxon
Mobil Corp's refinery in the Los Angeles-area city of
Torrance on Monday, disrupting operations for days.
On Friday, Exxon said the Torrance plant had resumed
operations, which helped ease supply fears.
In another complication, California refineries had already
cut production in anticipation of switching over to a seasonal
winter blend of gasoline next month. Gas stations in California
are set on Nov. 1 to begin selling winter-blend gas, which
releases more smog-causing substances than summer blend.
State officials earlier this week reassured the public that
California was not running out of gasoline.
Costco had been forced to shut about 14 of its 40 Los
Angeles-area stations, but the company's chief financial
officer, Richard Galanti, said later the "situation is starting
Jeffrey Spring, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of
Southern California, which is affiliated with AAA, said it
remained unclear how prices may change in the coming days.
"A lot depends on whether the perceived supply issues are
quickly addressed," he said.
On Thursday, the California Independent Oil Marketers
Association, which represents wholesale and retail gasoline
marketers, asked the California Air Resources Board, an air
quality regulator, to allow the early sale of winter-blend
CARB could also permit gasoline from neighboring states that
does not meet California's strict emission standards. A CARB
spokesman said the board is evaluating the emergency request,
but said there is no timetable for a decision.