With part of a key South Bay refinery gutted by an explosion and with our annual switch to more expensive summer-blend gas under way, Los Angeles–area fuel prices have seen an all-time record increase from month-to-month, according to the Auto Club of Southern California.
The price of gas has gone up a whopping 77 cents since the same time last month, the AAA announced today. That beats the 57-cent increase we experienced in October 2012, which still holds the record for a weekly jump in price of 52 cents "during a summer-blend fuel shortage," the AAA said in a statement.
The average price for a gallon of regular fuel in Los Angeles/Long Beach area is $3.245, the AAA says. That's still 64 cents lower than it was at this time last year, however.
Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring blames the refinery blast:
The Torrance refinery incident of last week is clearly a major cause of this jump that is giving Southern California drivers higher fuel bills than even Wailuku, Maui, traditionally the most expensive place in the country to buy gas.
The AAA is assuming here that the Torrance ExxonMobil explosion Feb. 18 has taken that refinery offline, although the company at the time stated that it would "continue to stabilize refinery operations" and that "non-impacted units of the refinery continue to operate."
An Auto Club official told us it wasn't clear if the refinery was partially or fully offline. But the incident clearly and immediately rocked California gas prices. The state is served by 14 refineries and imports little fuel because California law requires special smog-reducing blends that are produced in-state.
The state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee will hold a joint hearing on the explosion March 5, officials announced today.
Other factors also are compounding our price woes:
A Tesoro plant in Martinez, California, was taken offline early this month as a result of a labor dispute. And the winter-summer blend switch is happening now, with an April 1 deadline of having summer fuel at all pumps.
The annual switch comes with a double whammy, too: Summer blend costs a few cents more per gallon at the pump. And suppliers and retailers, of course, don't want to waste a drop of fuel, so they sometimes hold off on switching until the last possible minute, creating a supply bottleneck as fair-weather driving starts to boost demand, experts say.
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Spring says we can expect further price hikes at the pump:
With wholesale prices jumping further by 20 cents on Wednesday for a net increase of $1.40 since Jan. 15, we can expect even more possibly hefty pump price increases in the coming days.