Here we go again.
California motorists, just one month removed from absorbing a steep gasoline price spike blamed on a refinery fire in Richmond, are in for another big hit, energy analysts said Wednesday.
National gas price tracker GasBuddy.com predicted spikes ranging from 10 to 30 cents a gallon this week at gas pumps throughout the state.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, said the statewide average price of gas reached a 2012 high of $4.35 a gallon in mid-March, "and we could blow that out of the water by this weekend in California."
Some California locales could see $4.40 a gallon by the weekend, DeHaan said.
An Aug. 6 fire in a unit of a key Chevron refinery with a capacity of 245,000 barrels a day in Richmond prompted a 25.8-cent spike in the average price of Sacramento-area gas within just a few days, and prices have hardly moved since then, hovering around the $4.07-$4.10 range.
This time, analysts pointed to multiple refinery issues, curbing gas supplies that analysts said were already tight following the Richmond fire.
A Monday power outage at ExxonMobil's 150,000-barrel-a-day refinery in Torrance disrupted its output. Dow Jones said the company is now "normalizing" production.
Also on Monday, Chevron's Kettleman-Los Medanos pipeline, which delivers crude to Bay Area refiners, was shut down after elevated levels of organic chloride were detected in the oil. The line is rated at 85,000 barrels a day.
In-state supplies have been further limited by maintenance work at Phillips 66 facilities in the Bay Area and Southern California.
"Prices that stations pay for gasoline have already increased by as much as 73 cents per gallon over the last week in some California markets, much of which has yet to hit retail pumps," DeHaan said. "While wholesale increases do not always translate directly into immediate retail increases of the same amount, they certainly point to the direction for which motorists should be prepared."
The ripple effect might already be happening.
On Wednesday morning, AAA said the statewide average price of unleaded regular was $4.23 a gallon, up 5 cents from Tuesday and up a dime from just one week ago.
In Sacramento, AAA had unleaded regular at an average $4.14 a gallon on Wednesday. In San Francisco, it was $4.33.
One year ago, AAA said the average price of unleaded regular statewide was $3.83 a gallon. The all-time statewide average high for unleaded regular is $4.61 a gallon, recorded by AAA on June 19, 2008.
Ironically, gas prices have been edging downward in other parts of the country. AAA put the U.S. average price of unleaded regular at $3.78 a gallon Wednesday, down 2 cents from last week.
Analysts noted that California-specific regulations for producing gasoline make the state vulnerable to price spikes when supplies go down. California cannot simply borrow millions of barrels of gasoline from neighboring states on short notice.
Also ironic: This is typically the time of year when gas prices decline, with the end of the summer driving season and a refinery switchover to producing less-expensive winter-blend gasoline.
"(California) is moving in the wrong direction. This is like springtime," DeHaan said, adding that California prices are at an all-time high for this time of year.
Sacramento-area motorists greeted the latest news with a chorus of groans.
"Oh my goodness, this is ridiculous. This is killing me. I can't possibly afford to keep this up. It's going to be $5 before you know it," said Bernie Davis, filling up his sport-utility vehicle at the 76 station at 15th and X streets.
At the Shell station at Greenback Lane and Auburn Boulevard in Citrus Heights, Rhonda Taylor filled the four-door family sedan and shook her head: "Where does it end? We're already talking about trading in for a (Toyota) Prius or something that gets that kind of gas mileage. This is just taking money out of our pockets money we need for other things."