Pain at the pump in California continued Tuesday, as the average price of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline in Los Angeles County exceeded $6 even as the average price nationwide continues to drop.
In L.A., the average cost of $6.01 per gallon topped California’s average of $5.86 and the nationwide average of $4.24, according to the American Automobile Assn.
Experts attributed the rise in California’s prices to recent trouble at a handful of oil refineries in the state. PBF Energy refineries in Torrance and Martinez as well as a Valero refinery in Benicia outside San Francisco have experienced problems in recent weeks that have led to a hit to gasoline production, driving prices up, said Patrick De Haan, head analyst at GasBuddy.
These refineries have experienced “flaring,” a burning off of gases that have to be released when a problem causes the refinery to go into safety mode, De Haan said. This could be due to a computer or valve issue, but refineries generally do not disclose details.
It can take two to four weeks for a refinery to return to full capacity, according to De Haan. The decrease in California’s gas supply can have a ripple effect up the West Coast, potentially affecting gas prices in Oregon and Washington as well.
Neighboring Southern California counties aren’t far behind Los Angeles, with the average price of a gallon of regular-grade gas in Orange County at $5.97, in Ventura County at $5.95, in San Bernardino County at $5.90 and in Riverside County at $5.88.
The average price of a gallon of gas in L.A. County topped $5 for the first time less than a month ago — on March 3.
Across the nation, the average gas price peaked at $4.33 per gallon on March 11 and has since dropped 9 cents.
The California average continues to steadily increase, and the gap between county and state prices has also widened, from 1.2% at the beginning of March to 2.6% as of Tuesday.
It’s difficult to say what will happen to California gas prices once these refinery issues are resolved due to other factors like the ongoing war in Ukraine and the global market, De Haan said.
The cost of fuel had already been rising over the past year due to pandemic-related supply-chain issues and inflation, but gas prices have jumped to historic highs since Russia began its invasion of the former Soviet republic.
California consistently has the most expensive gas in the nation due to the state’s environmental laws and its taxes on motor fuels. During warmer months, the state requires a special blend of gasoline designed to reduce air pollution.
These exorbitant prices may soon be too high for consumers to bear, according to De Haan.
A set of early numbers have indicated a slight decrease in demand for gasoline on the West Coast while demand has increased in every other region across the country, De Haan said.
This is an indicator of “demand destruction,” a phenomenon that occurs when prices are so high that Americans start to modify their behavior.
It’s a “key turning point” that represents a shift in the balance of supply and demand, De Haan said.