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Refinery Outages Help Boost Pump Prices 5%

June 17, 2003|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

Retail gas prices in California jumped 9.1 cents a gallon in the last week, ending 12 weeks of declines, amid higher crude oil prices and a flurry of Bay Area refinery problems.

The average cost of a gallon of regular jumped to $1.787 statewide for the seven-day period ending Monday, up more than 5% from the week before, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

It marks the first increase since March 17, when California pump prices set a record average of $2.145 in the EIA survey.

Nationwide, gasoline prices inched up for the second straight week, rising 2.8 cents to an average of $1.518 per gallon.

Analysts blamed the sharper increase in California to outages at refineries owned by Valero Energy Corp., Royal Dutch/Shell and Tesoro Petroleum Corp., which has cut gasoline production by up to 8%, according to Claudia Chandler, assistant executive director at the California Energy Commission.

Los Angeles prices increased 8.3 cents to $1.773, while the cost of fuel in San Francisco rose 9.8 cents to $1.869, the highest average price in the country.

The survey confirms what many California motorists have already noticed at the pumps. Consumer groups see the trend continuing in advance of the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, when gasoline demand accelerates.

"We'll be lucky if we get past July 4 with a statewide average that stays below $1.90," said Charles Langley of the Utility Consumers' Action Network, a San Diego consumer group that has conducted local gas price surveys for five years. "We're once again seeing the impact of a tremendously uncompetitive market."

David Fogarty, spokesman for the industry's Western States Petroleum Assn., said gasoline prices are a function of market conditions, such as supply and demand.

He noted, however, that "it's always a concern for consumers when gasoline supplies are down."

Another factor in the price increase, in California and the nation, is the recent rise in the price of crude oil, the core component needed to make gasoline. After spending weeks in the mid-$20 range, the price of a barrel of crude oil has lately been hovering above $30.

On Monday, the price of oil rose 53 cents to $31.18 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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