Gas Prices

The upswing in gasoline prices in California largely reflects stoppages at oil refineries that account for some 17% of the state’s production capacity. Above, a station in Santa Monica on Saturday. (Jerome Adamstein / Los Angeles Times)

By Tiffany Hsu
March 4, 2015

Idled oil refineries have helped gasoline prices surge about $1 a gallon in California in a month

California gas prices have shot up about $1 a gallon in the last month as oil refineries have been idled by a labor strike and an explosion.

That’s made gasoline much more expensive here than anywhere else in the nation — an average of $3.44 for a gallon of regular as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to price-tracker Hawaii is the only other state with an average price above $3 a gallon.

Most of the increase came last week, including when the local price surged 14.3 cents Friday from Thursday. For the week that ended Monday, West Coast gas prices jumped a record 37.2 cents a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

California’s increase nearly tripled the nationwide average over the past month. Drivers in Los Angeles are paying an average of $3.54 a gallon to fuel up, more than any of the other 443 metropolitan areas tracked by GasBuddy.

Part of the jump is driven by factors that always make California gas more expensive, such environmental controls on the types of fuels sold here, including the annual switch to a cleaner-burning summer blend. But the upswing largely reflects stoppages at oil refineries that account for about 17% of the state’s production capacity.

In early February, Tesoro Corp. decided to idle processing at its Martinez plant amid a nationwide strike at 15 oil and chemical refineries. Half the San Francisco Bay Area facility, which can handle 166,000 barrels of crude oil daily, had already been undergoing planned maintenance.

But California gas prices didn’t jump until an explosion at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s refinery in Torrance on Feb. 18. The blast sent ash into the air and caused minor injuries to four contractors.

The facility processes an average of 155,000 barrels a day and produces 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline a year — contributing as much as 20% of Southern California’s supply. Damage from the explosion has halted gasoline production in affected units at the facility. Exxon Mobil declined to say when it expects the facility to be fully operational.

The government’s energy agency said that the statewide market could take weeks to readjust to the sudden loss of production.

The resulting squeeze on supply means more profit for oil companies, according to Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog. The activist group has called for Tesoro and Exxon Mobil executives to be subpoenaed by legislators to explain “price gouging.”

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