LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Gas prices seem to be climbing by the second, setting unwanted records, angering drivers and even causing closures at some pumps.
Gas prices shot up 19.2 cents overnight Thursday. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in L.A. County was $4.58 on Friday, the highest figure since 2008.
In Orange County, the average is up 20 cents to $4.53, while in the Inland Empire, it’s up to $4.48. In Ventura County, the average price per gallon is $4.54.
The price increases could continue for weeks and the average might even break the $5 mark, according to experts.
Refinery and pipeline mishaps, along with the state’s strict pollution limits are all, in part, to blame. They’ve sent wholesale prices soaring to all-time highs this week.
One of the disruptions involved a power outage on Monday at the Exxon Mobil plant in Torrance, which normally produces 150 millions barrels of gas per day.
Additionally, Chevron’s Richmond plant, the largest refinery in Northern California, has been running at reduced capacity since a fire Aug. 6.
At the same time, California refineries have dropped production in recent weeks in anticipation of switching over to a “winter blend” of gasoline, which emits more pollutants, next month.
But California’s summer-blend fuel requirements are in effect in Southern California until Oct. 31.
Because of the spike in wholesale prices, some gas station owners have stopped making purchases to fill their underground tanks.
Mom-and-pop stations are really feeling the squeeze. They’ve had to shut down because they can’t get gas from their regular distributor, or they can’t afford it.
And at least 12 Costco gas stations, including those in Marina del Rey, Tustin and Inglewood, have run out of gasoline.
The Costco in Simi Valley ran out of regular fuel on Thursday and was selling premium fuel at regular prices.
Costco is an independent gas provider, so it has to find gas on the open market.
Costco’s CEO said Friday morning that he expects to have gasoline back in their tanks soon, but probably not in time for the weekend.
Valero Energy Corp. stopped selling gasoline on the wholesale market in Southern California and is allocating deliveries to customers.
Exxon Mobil Corp. is also rationing fuel to U.S. West Coast terminal customers.
Gas prices in California should continue to rise as retail prices catch up with wholesale prices, analysts say.
“Wholesale prices have gone up $1 a gallon in the last week alone, and retail prices have only followed for 30 cents,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, told the Daily News.
He said that means there’s still room for gas prices to climb, and he expects that’s exactly what they will do.
Gas prices have already surpassed $5 a gallon at a few filling stations in California, according to GasBuddy.com.
The average price per gallon in California is already well above the record high national average price of $4.114 a gallon, which was set in 2008 when oil prices rose to $140 a barrel.
And it’s likely that California’s record average price of $4.61 per gallon, set in June 2008, will be broken, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service.
Analysts expect that the surge in California gas prices will retreat sometime in October, though it’s impossible to say exactly when.
Relief could come more quickly if the state’s refineries are allowed to switch to the cheaper winter-grade fuel before the end of October.
The California Independent Oil Marketers Association, which represents wholesale and retail fuel marketers, asked the state Thursday to expedite a waiver allowing for the switch.