"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 that 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, however.
Exxon Mobil Corp. said a refinery in Torrance returned to normal operations Friday after the power failure Monday disrupted production for most of the week. State officials said with the refinery coming back online, prices should start falling.
Gasoline inventories in California, however, are still at their lowest point in more than 10 years, a situation made worse by the mandate for the special summer gasoline blend. Few refineries outside the state can make it, meaning there are few outside sources to draw from for help, Cinquegrana said.
The California Air Resources Board was reviewing a request from the California Independent Oil Marketers Association for a waiver that would allow gas stations to begin selling winter-blend gasoline before Halloween.
Some stations ran out of gas and shut down rather than take the risk of buying gas at soaring prices only to be stuck with a glut of overpriced fuel if prices dropped or if customers refused to absorb the extra cost that would be passed along to them.
Mark Mitchell, co-owner of the Coast Oil fuel distributorship in San Jose, told the San Francisco Chronicle that none of the gas stations he serves had shut down, although some station owners had discussed it. When spot prices hit their peak, the stations would need to charge about $4.89 to break even, he said.
"We get the gas — it's just at what price?" Mitchell told the newspaper. "You're not going to sell much when it goes up 40 cents in a day."
Contributing to this report were AP writers Sandy Shore in Denver, Gillian Flaccus in Los Angeles, John Marshall in San Francisco and Gosia Wozniacka in Fresno.
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