Business & Economy

MAP: Summer prep and refinery upkeep help drive up Southern California gas prices

Ed Joyce/KPCC

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Here’s a shocker: experts say Southland gas prices will jump again, probably by Valentine’s Day. In the past month, gas has gone up an average of 12 cents a gallon in California.  And drivers in Los Angeles are paying more at the pump than in any other California city — about a dime more than the state average of $3.73 a gallon. What’s up with that?  

Much of the reason for that is "the switchover to cleaner burning summer gasoline as well as more expensive crude oil," says Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst who runs  GasBuddy  tracks gas prices in North America. 

Another factor: refinery crews conducting upkeep to prepare for summer demand, says DeHaan. 

“They generally have to shut down part of their plants to do the work," says DeHaan, "and that’s what we’re seeing - a loss in production of gasoline production while refineries are doing maintenance [creates] upward pressure on gasoline prices.” 

Refinery shutdowns can drive up the wholesale cost of gas; the wholesale price just spiked 17 cents a gallon in the Southland.

Faced with that higher wholesale cost, retailers "are going to pass it along to motorists," says DeHaan. "We’ve seen an increase in wholesale prices virtually every day for the last week and a half or so.  It’s not setting up a rosy picture at all.”  

DeHaan says the state’s combined federal, state, and local gasoline tax figures among the highest in the country at 69 cents per gallon.  That’s another reason gas prices are jumping.  

If history’s any indication, Southland motorists could see some relief this summer.  Prices generally tend to go down in June.  But if that happens, you may not even notice – because experts say prices won’t drop that much.  

Los Angeles has the highest average price for gas among cities analysts surveyed in 48 states.

California generally experiences higher gas prices because it's basically an island of gas supply: we can't import gasoline from other states because they don't meet our air quality standards, so we have to rely on in-state refineries to produce our gas.