Gas Price Spike Was Uniquely Californian

During the first week of Oct, gas prices were falling through much of the country while spiking an unprecedented 50 cents in CA due to some unique circumstances - bad air requiring a unique fuel blend and a 'perfect storm' of refinery mishaps.

2 minute read

October 14, 2012, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Journalist Paul Rogers, who covers environmental and science news for the San Jose Mercury News and KQED in San Francisco, explains that there isn't much California can do to prevent gasoline price spikes like the unprecedented 50-cents it experienced the first week of October.

"Skyrocketing gas prices over the past week have been blamed on two key issues: outages at California refineries and the fact that the state requires a unique type of clean-burning summer gasoline that can't be easily replaced or imported from other places during shortages." In addition, "a Chevron pipeline in the Central Valley shut because of high levels of organic chloride found in the gas", the Mercury News reported on Oct. 07. In short, it was the 'perfect storm' that hit the California gasoline production and distribution network.

In fact, California's 14 refineries have produced surplus gasoline due to decreased demand since consumption peaked in 2006 due to decreased driving and more efficient vehicles. Don't expect more refineries to be built.

Rogers explains how California became a 'fuel island' and why it's unlikely to change. Start with the country's dirtiest air, most people, and most vehicles.

"The state's special blend of gasoline dates back to 1971, when Gov. Ronald Reagan's administration required that fuel sold during the summer be refined in a way that causes less evaporation." It was made even cleaner in 1996 by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. Consequently, air is dramatically cleaner today.

Should California alter the fuel blend to conform to other states' fuels, health problems would rise, including "increased emphysema, asthma and even deaths."

With the state's bad air and concern for public health, one oilman had this to say about preventing these types of price spikes.

"I don't know that there is a solution to this," said Jay McKeeman, vice president of the California Independent Oil Marketers Association. "It's the price we pay for living in California."

Along with the surge in prices has been a surge in transit ridership, at lease in southern California, reports KABC-TV/Los Angeles. On Oct. 9, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was $4.71 in LA and Long Beach, 51 cents more than last week.

"The increasing cost of gas has forced many to take a bus or train. Metrolink says Southern Californians are packing mass transit lines. They have reported a definite increase in ridership, even posting a record of nearly 23,000 riders this weekend."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 in San Jose Mercury News

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