Exxon Mobil

An Exxon Mobil ship sailed for 70 days off the coast of Singapore but never picked up fuel for California from the company’s two refineries there. Above, an Exxon tanker truck. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Ivan Penn
February 9, 2016

There’s an unusual new entry to the long list of reasons why Californians spent the last year paying significantly more for gasoline than other U.S. drivers: a mystery ship.

The explosion at Exxon Mobil’s huge Torrance refinery a year ago undoubtedly was a major factor contributing to high gasoline prices in California, especially in the Los Angeles area, fuel experts have said.

Consumer advocates contend that the oil company could have done more to bolster gasoline inventories and help lower prices, and on Monday they backed up the argument with the help of a wandering oil tanker.

SR American Progress, an Exxon Mobil ship, sailed for 70 days off the coast of Singapore but never picked up fuel for California from the company’s two refineries in Singapore that produce the state’s special blend of environmentally friendly gasoline. Jamie Court, president of advocacy organization Consumer Watchdog, told the state Petroleum Market Advisory Board that the ship stopped in Los Angeles after its Southeast Asia excursion but didn’t unload any gasoline before taking its fuel to Florida.

“We have a real troubling, dysfunctional market,” Court said during the meeting in Sacramento.

Exxon Mobil in a statement dismissed Court’s allegations without discussing the SR American Progress’ sailing records or deliveries.

“Exxon Mobil rejects these allegations and is committed to the highest standards of business conduct, has operated responsibly and in strict compliance with all laws,” said Todd Spitler, a spokesman for the oil giant.

Court and others have accused the industry of manipulating the markets to obtain record profits that some of the oil companies gained in California with the gas price increases.

Although the average California gas price typically runs higher than the national average, unusually wide gaps persisted throughout 2015, in particular between the L.A. area and the rest of the country. At one point, the average gas price in the L.A. region stood at $1.50 more than the U.S. average, with some gas stations in the city listing prices as high as $5.49 a gallon.

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