Pump prices soar in California after refinery outages and other problems. Some stations charge more than $5 a gallon, others shut down. Some analysts hope the spike will be short-lived.

By Ronald D. White and Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times
October 6, 2012

California drivers are reeling from days of sharp gasoline price increases that left the state within reach of its record high. Economists warn that a prolonged period of elevated gas costs could harm consumers as the holiday shopping season kicks in.

Analysts attributed the price surge to fuel traders’ emotional reaction after a series of refinery outages and other problems, including a Northern California refinery fire, a Southern California refinery blackout, pipeline contamination and other events. Some service stations were charging more than $5 a gallon and others stopped buying new supplies out of fear that if the market turned they’d lose money.

“I haven’t seen a series of incidents like this, and it has led to the worst panic-driven rise in gasoline prices that I have seen in 35 years,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.

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Prices are likely to set records over the weekend, analysts said, but they held out hope that the pain could end soon as fuel production problems subside.

Unhappy motorists said they were caught off guard.

“I went to the Costco station in Pacoima to buy gas on Thursday and was shocked to find it closed,” said Max Lang, 45, an engineer who lives in Stevenson Ranch. “I just don’t get why it’s happening.”

Gwen Grace, a 37-year-old homemaker, searched Friday for a price cheaper than the $4.39 a gallon that the USA gas station in Santa Monica was charging. Other nearby stations wanted as much as $5.39, so she bought $20 worth for her Prius and hoped it would last until prices begin to drop.

“It’s just depressing,” Grace said.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline Friday was $4.486, up a record 17.1 cents from the day before, according to AAA’s daily fuel price survey. That increase had followed an 8-cent rise from Wednesday to Thursday at a time when other parts of the country are watching prices decline.

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