The third straight week of double-digit price drops left the California… (Justin Sullivan, Getty…)
Retail gasoline prices are plunging in California, with averages dropping below $4 a gallon for the first time since mid-February, according to one fuel-price survey.
The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in California reached $3.99, down 12.7 cents since last week, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. The third straight week of double-digit price drops left the California average 1.1 cents below the 2011 level. A month earlier, the state's average was $4.35 a gallon, AAA said.
An Energy Department survey put California's average a tad higher at $4.029 a gallon Monday, down 13.5 cents from a week earlier. The two polls of fuel retailers, which use different sources and methods, usually track each other fairly closely although their results may differ slightly.
Chatsworth resident Adil Mehta was more annoyed than thrilled by the recent price declines.
"Less than $4 is certainly better," said Mehta, who works in the aviation industry. "But this is still quite a high price."
"If the prices could stabilize at $3.50," Mehta said, "that is something I could live with, and it would still be possible to maintain a decent lifestyle without having to worry."
Prices should decline further, experts said.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, said California's average gasoline price could drop as low as 3.25 a gallon in the coming weeks. Kloza's company provides the data for the AAA Fuel Gauge Report averages, tallying daily credit-card receipts from more than 100,000 fuel sellers around the U.S.
"Motorists in California will be getting a nice break," Kloza said. But, he added, California's isolation from the rest of the nation's oil and fuel sources and its relatively tight refining capacity could throw a wrench into the works.
California refinery gasoline supplies are still running 14.7% below 2011 numbers, according to the state's Energy Commission.
The state's refineries had been operating at some of their lowest levels in many years. As of June 8, however, production of the state's expensive blend of gasoline was running at 6.71 million barrels, which was slightly ahead of last year's pace.
"West Coast wholesale gasoline prices are now among the lowest in the nation, with California, Oregon and Washington seeing their averages drop back under $4 a gallon," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for Gas.Buddy.com. California's average could fall to $3.75 a gallon soon, he said.
GasBuddy reports on prices at more than 140,000 retail outlets in North America. On Monday in California, service stations in Suisun City, Fairfield, Highland and near Travis Air Force Base were selling gasoline for as little as $3.59 a gallon.
Nationally, the average gas price was also falling, according to AAA and the Energy Department.
AAA put the U.S. average at $3.505 on Monday, down 3.5 cents from a week earlier. The Energy Department pegged the national average at $3.533, down 3.9 cents from a week earlier.
The U.S. benchmark oil contract was down 76 cents a barrel at $83.27 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, the Brent oil used to set the price of most U.S. imports fell $1.56 to $96.05 a barrel.