Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — California gas prices will increase for several more days before leveling off after a temporary reduction in supply triggered a price spike that saw fuming motorists paying $5 or more per gallon in some locations and station owners shutting down pumps in others.
The Golden State leapfrogged Hawaii as the state with the most expensive fuel. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded across California was nearly $4.49 on Friday, 32 cents more than a week ago and the highest statewide average in the nation, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report.
The national average is about $3.79 a gallon, the highest ever for this time of year. However, gas prices in many other states have started decreasing, which is typical for October.
The dramatic surge came because of a power outage Monday at a Southern California refinery reduced supply in an already fragile and volatile market, analysts said, but the refinery came back online Friday and prices were expected to stabilize by next week.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, predicted the average price could peak as high as $4.85, surpassing the June 2008 record of $4.61.
"There is some relief in sight but probably not for a couple of days. Early next week is when we may see some more significant declines ... but at retail prices, prices may climb for the next two to three days before they start to come down," he said.
Rebecca Olson, 43, of Irvine, drove to a Costco in Tustin on Friday hoping to find lower prices than the $4.65 in her neighborhood, but the pumps were closed.
The part-time preschool teacher said her husband already spends $500 a month on gas, in part because he commutes nearly 100 miles a day to a new sales job after being unemployed for a year.
"All of this is killing us, just because we've got big cars," she said.
They've already parked their GMC Yukon SUV indefinitely. If gas prices keep rising, Olson said they'll sell her husband's Infiniti G35 that requires premium fuel and buy a more efficient car, while making their children ride their bikes to their activities.
"Just last night, we were looking at economical cars, we were car shopping," she said.
A web of refinery and transmission problems is to blame, analysts said. The situation is compounded by a pollution law that requires a special blend of cleaner-burning gasoline from April to October, said Denton Cinquegrana, executive editor of the Oil Price Information Service, which helps AAA compile its price survey.
"We use the phrase 'the perfect storm,' and you know what, this current one makes those other perfect storms look like a drizzle. I don't want to scare anyone, but this is a big problem," Cinquegrana said. "Run-outs are happening left and right."
Among the recent disruptions, an Aug. 6 fire at a Chevron Corp. refinery in Richmond left one of the region's largest refineries producing at a reduced capacity, and a Chevron pipeline that moves crude oil to Northern California also was shut down.
There was some good news.
Exxon Mobil Corp. said a refinery in Torrance returned to normal operations Friday after a power failure Monday disrupted production for most of the week. State officials said with the refinery coming back online, prices should start falling.
"The wholesale market appears to have peaked and is heading down," said Alison apRoberts, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission. "Because it takes a little while for the price reductions to funnel through the system, consumers at the pumps should start to see some declines over the next week."
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