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Rising fuel exports keep U.S. gasoline prices from falling

Nationally, the price for a gallon of regular gas is up nearly $1 compared with a year ago as refineries concentrate on production for foreign markets.

September 07, 2011|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times
  • This unicyclist doesn't need to worry about gas prices in Portland, Ore. In California, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline jumped 13.5 cents in the last week, to $3.944, the Energy Department said. Thats also 90.3 cents a gallon higher than the average a year earlier.
This unicyclist doesn't need to worry about gas prices in Portland,… (Rick Bowmer/Associated…)

Oil prices have fallen, but U.S. motorists aren't benefiting because the nation's refineries continue to boost exports and reduce supplies available domestically.

The results could be seen in the Energy Department's weekly survey of service stations around the U.S. In California, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline jumped 13.5 cents in the last week, to $3.944, the Energy Department said. That's also 90.3 cents a gallon higher than the average a year earlier.

Nationally, the Energy Department said, the average price climbed 4.7 cents a gallon to $3.674 over the last week — 99.2 cents higher than a year earlier.

"The U.S. petroleum balance of trade continues to shift in a sea change that is both literal and figurative," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. "For the 10th week in a row, Energy Department numbers show that the country exported considerably more refined products cargoes than were imported."

Much of the refined product involved in the exports is diesel, Kloza said, meaning that refineries are devoting more of their production to that fuel at the expense of gasoline. The customers are mostly in Central America and South America.

"Notwithstanding disappointing U.S. demand, the worldwide merchant demand for U.S.-produced fuel is strong," Kloza said.

Five years ago, U.S. imports of refined fuels outpaced exports by 3 million barrels a day, according to Energy Department statistics. Two years ago, fuel imports into the U.S. were still outpacing exports by 1.5 million barrels a day.

The most recent statistics show exports of refined products from the U.S. outpacing imports by 476,000 barrels a day.

"That figure is a new modern-day record. We are a net exporter now," Kloza said. "If not for high prices in the U.S., it would be something to cheer about in terms of helping the deficit. But in the U.S., it's just going to get under people's skin. It's like we're selling off our birthright."

In other energy news, U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil for October delivery closed at $86.02 a barrel, down 43 cents from Friday and off nearly 6% from the high for the year. The slide was blamed on fears of a slowing U.S. economy. In London, European benchmark Brent North Sea crude rose $2.81 to close at $112.89 a barrel.

ron.white@latimes.com

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