The volatility of California gasoline prices was dramatically evident in AAA’s monthly statewide gas price survey released Tuesday.
Brief shutdowns at two key Golden State refineries in late April helped send the statewide average price of unleaded regular to $3.73 a gallon, a whopping 63-cent spike since AAA’s April 14 survey.
AAA said that was the highest in the nation, by far. Hawaii, typically No. 1 on AAA’s monthly price listings, was No. 2 this month by 50 cents, coming in at 3.23 a gallon.
“Refinery issues on the West Coast continue to push prices higher in California,” said Cynthia Harris, AAA Northern California spokeswoman.
Harris and energy analysts said motorists throughout the state have been paying the price for brief shutdowns near the end of last month at the Chevron refinery in Richmond and the Tesoro refinery in Martinez.
State environmental regulations mandate that in-state refineries produce a California-specific fuel blend that meets Golden State standards. So when something happens to disrupt production at a major California refinery, the ripple effect is sometimes immediate and dramatic.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “Today in Energy” briefing explained it this way: “Supply disruptions in the tightly balanced and relatively isolated California gasoline market have increased wholesale and retail gasoline prices over the past several weeks. This comes after markets had adjusted to compensate for lost production following the February explosion and fire at ExxonMobil’s refinery in Torrance.”
Regional prices are below the state average. AAA said the average price of unleaded regular in Sacramento on Tuesday was $3.54 a gallon, up 62 cents from April. The Northern California average was $3.62, up 57 cents month-to-month.
Despite the recent spike, gas prices in the Sacramento area and statewide remain well below year-ago averages.
The average price of unleaded regular statewide on April 12, 2014, was $4.19 a gallon; the year-ago at-the-pump average in Sacramento was $4.09.
The national average is a relatively affordable $2.66 a gallon, up 27 cents from last month but down about a dollar from $3.65 reported one year ago. Harris said the U.S. price is not likely to budge: “Nationally, AAA predicts that gas prices may not change significantly by the holiday weekend. This relatively stable price would result in the cheapest gas prices for Memorial Day travelers in at least five years.”