California motorists are paying more at the pump than they have in five years, with surging prices primarily due to maintenance upgrades and repairs at refineries across the state, officials said.
The state’s average gas price is currently hovering at $4.03 per gallon — a 70 cent increase within the last month, said AAA Northern California spokesman Michael Blasky.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a spike like this,” he said, adding that the average price hasn’t surpassed the $4 marker since July of 2014. “California refineries produce all the gasoline that Californians use because of fuel requirements and if there are local refinery issues then it has an immediate impact on California prices overnight.”
And a cleaner blend of fuel mixed with ethanol must be used during the summer in California, what’s called the “summer blend.”
“No other place produces that blend so there’s no easy way to get a resupply from another region if we get a problem locally,” Blasky said. “It creates an island around the California fuel market.”
There has been reduced or no production at the Valero Benicia refinery over the past 40 days, for example, and it’s among the highest-output refineries in the state, Blasky said. Out of California’s 10 refineries, six of them have seen reduced production of late because of maintenance and repairs.
In the Bay Area, San Francisco’s average gas price is the highest at $4.10 per gallon, San Jose is sitting at $4.02 per gallon and San Mateo County’s average is $4.01 while Sacramento, which is typically 15 to 20 cents cheaper than the Bay Area, is seeing an average price of $3.92.
Blasky said there’s little evidence that higher fuel prices have an affect on consumer demand.
“It has an effect on consumer behavior, but not where we see a huge change on travel demand,” he said.
Larry Fisher, a San Francisco resident who commutes to the Peninsula and South Bay, said at a San Mateo 76 gas station that fuel prices have caused him to use public transportation more often.
“I said holy mackerel when I saw what the prices had reached,” he said. “My next purchase will be an electric car.”
Eric Anderson, a Belmont resident who owns a second home in Tahoe, said at a Chevron in San Mateo that he’s planning fewer trips there because of gas prices.
Ignacio Ramirez, a Hollister resident who works on the Peninsula, said the cost of filling the tank of his pickup truck spiked by about $10 over the past month or so. He’s now more aware of fuel prices and spending more time looking for the cheapest gas stations.
Blasky said Bay Area prices are about as high as much of Southern California, adding that areas with traffic congestion see higher prices because they’re harder to supply.
California has the highest average gas price in the country, well above the national average of $2.83 per gallon, and its gas tax is second highest in the country at $0.417 per gallon. On July 1, the state’s gas tax will increase by $.056 per gallon to a rate of $0.473 per gallon.
Blasky said Hawaii usually sees higher average gas prices per gallon than California but, within the last month or so, California’s average gas price is 50 cents higher.
Blasky said prices have leveled off in California over the last few days after going up 5 cents a day for three weeks in a row.
“Hopefully we’re hitting peak,” he said. “We’ve also seen encouraging information that a lot of refineries are turning to more normal levels of production. Prices should come down, though in the summer demand as well as prices usually go up because people travel more.”
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