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Gasoline price: Signs still point to a rise and to tight supplies

March 19, 2012|By Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer
  • The ConocoPhillips refinery in Wilmington in operation recently. The nation's refiners continued to export record amounts of fuel overseas, keeping domestic supplies tight and prices high.
The ConocoPhillips refinery in Wilmington in operation recently. The… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The average retail price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. continued to rise overnight while the price in California dropped by such a small amount that virtually no one will notice. Three more states joined the $4 a gallon club, bringing the total to six, and U.S. fuel experts continued at a record high pace.

Across the U.S., the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline rose another 4.1 cents since last week and 0.4 cents overnight to $3.842 a gallon. That's according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. The price looked painfully high a year ago on this date, but it was $3.548 a gallon then.

Some analysts didn't think prices had peaked. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, said: "I still maintain that prices will likely not peak until we get closer to the month of May as a majority of localities are still switching to summer gasoline."

Summer or warm weather blends of gasoline require more expensive components than cheaper winter or cold weather blends. As Tom Kloza, chief oil analysts for Oil Price Information Services, said: "In the summertime, gasoline can't have the same volatility and evaporative qualities" of winter blend fuel, unless, he added, "one wants to see ozone inversion layers like those that exist in Chinese urban areas."

In California, the average for a gallon of regular gasoline has fallen by a paltry 0.9 cents since last week and by just 0.1 cents overnight to $4.350. A year ago, the state's average was $3.969 a gallon. One reason for the slow decline: another refinery down for "non-routine maintenance," according to fuel price specialist Bob van der Valk. This time it's a Southern California facility run by Tesoro Petroleum Corp., he said.

The collection of states above an average of $4 a gallon today now includes Hawaii, California, Alaska, Illinois, New York and Connecticut, the AAA said. The latter three joined since last week.

U.S. refineries continue to divert more of every barrel of oil they process into fuel distillates, such as diesel, according to Energy Department statistics.  Just this last week, the amount exported was at a record 3,156,000 barrels a day.

That figure represents a more than threefold increase over the amount of fuel exported 10 years ago. It's also more than double the amount exported five years ago, and it's a rise of 35.63% since last year.

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