Super Low Gas Prices Are So Over
You've been enjoying some of the lowest gas prices since 2009.
We're talking about $2.36 a gallon in the Los Angeles area, 80 cents lower than the same time last year, says the Auto Club of Southern California.
Some stations have even been selling fuel for less than $2.
Now for the bad news:
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Both the AAA and pump-comparison site GasBuddy say prices could spike by as much as 30 cents in the days to come.
It's the time of year when refineries and gas stations are getting ready to switch to California-mandated "summer blend" fuel, formulated to reduce pollution during our warmer months.
The time frame for the switch over in Southern California is usually March 1 to April 1, which is a blessing and a curse.
A global oil glut, including record American production and low, low OPEC barrel prices, have anchored low pump prices in the United States.
But this month's rare, $2-and-change prices in SoCal were probably affected by anticipation of the seasonal changeover, said GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan.
"Refiners have to get rid of it," he told us. "So they offer very low prices — 40 percent off if not more. It's the yearly drawdown, with a glut of supply."
However, the switch will ultimately pinch supplies at a time when demand starts to increase: Because stations don't want to be left holding fuel they can't legally sell, they hold off on replenishing their holding tanks until every last drop of winter blend is out the door, experts say.
Plus, other complications are boosting prices.
"Los Angeles fuel wholesale prices jumped 51 cents on Wednesday, mainly because of futures investments for March gasoline," said Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring. "Also, refineries are having distribution problems with the summer blend of gasoline, which needs to be in gas pumps by April 1."
Still, TV news predictions of overnight price mayhem in the Los Angeles area might be exaggerated, DeHaan said.
The price hike will be gradual as the gas switch takes place and as a traditional warm-weather increase in demand for fuel happens in spring, he argued.
"Over the next week, GasBuddy is expecting to see gasoline prices rise 20 to 35 cents per gallon," the site said in a statement. "Price increases may vary dramatically from station to station as they refuel with the more costly gasoline. Some stations may raise faster than others, with cheaper gas stations under more pressure to adjust prices than more expensive stations who can absorb some of the sudden jump."
The continuing oil glut and the possibility that the Torrance ExxonMobil refinery will come back on line this spring following an explosion last year could temper the increases, DeHaan said.
That's the good news.
"We're still expecting a relatively mild summer at the pump," he said. "Prices should be quite a bit lower than last year."
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