For the fourth day in the row, California broke the state's record on gasoline prices, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. The only good news, analysts said, was that the rise continued to lose momentum Tuesday. According to the AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California reached $4.671. That was an increase of just 0.3 cent overnight. The AAA price averages use-sales receipts collected daily from more than 100,000 retail outlets.
"It's not over yet," said fuel price specialist Bob van der Valk about the unusual surge that left gasoline prices 48.9 cents higher than they were a week ago.
California had the highest prices for gas in the nation, by far. Second place went to Hawaii, whose average for a gallon of regular was 26.4 cents less.
Analysts attributed the price surge in California to fuel traders' emotional reaction after a series of refinery outages and other problems.
Those incidents included a Northern California refinery fire, a Southern California refinery blackout and pipeline contamination. Some service stations were charging more than $5.50 a gallon by Friday and others stopped buying new supplies out of fear that if the market turned they'd lose money.
On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown moved to increase the fuel supply by ordering that winter-blend gasoline could be sold in the state. Usually, that blend — which can evaporate quicker in hot weather, increasing air pollution — is not permitted until after Oct. 31.
The gasoline supply was still low enough Tuesday that some smaller independent stations were finding it difficult to maintain their fuel levels for customers, analysts said.
Valero Energy Corp., the nation's biggest refinery company, said it was still reserving its fuel for customers with whom it already had contracts and prior agreements.
"That will change as more fuel supplies become available," Valero spokesman Bill Day said.
The Energy Department uses a different method for its fuel price averages. According to those computations, California's record had been the $4.588 a gallon recorded on June 16, 2008. This week's average broke that record by 7.1 cents. The new record of $4.659 a gallon was a rise of 48.3 cents compared with a week earlier, the Energy Department said.
The price jump, the Energy Department said, left California motorists paying an average of 84.4 cents a gallon more than they were at this time last year.