Gas Prices

Gasoline prices are displayed at a California service station in May 2015. (Associated Press)

Ivan Penn
July 1, 2016

State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has issued subpoenas to oil refiners as part of an investigation into unusually high gasoline prices in California during the last year.

California drivers paid pump prices that have been as much as $1.50 higher than the rest of the nation since last summer.

Gordon Schremp, senior fuels analyst for the California Energy Commission, said he was aware of Harris’ investigation of the state’s refiners. He said the attorney general’s office has requested significant information dating back to 2015 on the oil refineries, their imports and exports.

Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for Harris’ office, said she could neither confirm nor deny whether the agency is investigating the refineries; news of the probe was first reported Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.

Harris is running against Rep. Loretta Sanchez for the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

An advisory panel to the California Energy Commission has been reviewing gas prices over the last several months to determine what, if anything, lawmakers might consider to ensure that consumers aren’t being gouged at gas stations.

The most recent surge in California fuel prices was largely driven by the outage at the Exxon Mobil Torrance refinery, which resulted from an explosion in February 2015, Schremp said.

During the Torrance outage, California refiners reaped record net income, even as gasoline prices were falling elsewhere in the country. Beyond the Torrance outage, critics of the oil companies blamed manipulation of the gasoline market for exacerbating the price increase.

“There have been all kinds of major allegations,” Schremp said. “I’ve seen [attorney general investigations] with all kinds of price spikes. I don’t know of an incidence where they’ve come back and said, yes we’ve found manipulation in the gasoline market.”

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn., said in a statement that the oil refineries will cooperate fully with any federal and state inquiries into California’s gas prices, and that her organization believes its members did nothing wrong.

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