Welcome to the return of $3 gas.

The Auto Club of Southern California says averages greater than $3 a gallon for gas have reached Los Angeles County ($3.059), Orange County ($3.060) and San Diego County ($3.022). The Inland Empire, at $2.988, slipped under the $3 mark, according to the AAA.

The last time Southern California saw $3 gas was 14 months ago, the association said. The all-time high in Los Angeles County was in 2012, when average prices reached $4.705 a gallon on Oct. 9.

The reasons fuel prices are headed up are many, says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at pump price comparison site GasBuddy.com. This is the season for the annual, state-mandated switch to so-called summer blend gas, which is formulated, at a slightly higher cost, to produce less environmental impact. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) recently cut production, boosting wholesale prices paid by refineries. Demand increases as the weather gets better. In addition, refineries will start to go off-line for seasonal maintenance.

“It's the time of year when gas prices usually go up,” DeHaan says. “Supply is much tighter, and motorists are paying higher prices because of that and increased demand.”

He also said a fire last month at the Torrance Refining Co. complex put a minor dent in supply, contributing to the prices we see today. But DeHaan called that event a “minor hiccup.” There are factors working in drivers' favor: U.S. producers responded to OPEC's supply cut with a boost in production that could offset the move somewhat. And demand, while almost always on the upswing in spring, “has been relatively weak this winter,” he says.

Still, Los Angeles County prices, on average, are up 7.2 cents per gallon versus last week and 55 cents per gallon versus last year, according to the AAA. The deadline to have all retail gas fully switched to summer blend is April 1, no foolin'.

“It seems that supplies are tight in advance of the April 1 deadline to switch from using winter blend to summer blend gasoline, and that activity, combined with some planned and unplanned refinery maintenance, is pushing prices higher,” Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring said in a statement. “As prices increase, drivers should remember fuel savings tips, including combining errands, slowing down and shopping for the lowest price using a tool such as the free AAA app.”

LA Weekly