Southern California gasoline prices could top $4 a gallon

Gasoline prices could reach an average of $4 a gallon in the Southland as early as this weekend because of a shortage in oil and other components used in refining California's blend of gas, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The pump price for a gallon of unleaded gas in the greater Los Angeles area spiked about 12 cents by Friday, bringing the average price to $3.66, the Auto Club said. The statewide average rose 6 cents a gallon to about $3.50.

On Friday, some Chevron stations in Orange County already had topped $4 a gallon.

"It's happening," said Marie Montgomery, an Auto Club spokeswoman. "It does look like the average price may go over $4."

Montgomery attributed the rise to a 12-month low in supplies of California's unique blend of gas. She said there was a lack of the ingredients used in the blend.

Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at Gas Buddy, said California had become unattractive to foreign suppliers because prices had been dropping for months.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the industry had to use 1.1 million barrels of already refined gasoline from its supply. About a third of those barrels affected Southern California.

"We have no gasoline as of Monday heading for the California coast," DeHaan said. "It's a dire situation."

DeHaan said the average gas price is likely to rise as much as 50 cents before peaking over the next week. Then shipments from foreign suppliers are likely to pick up and ease the crunch.

The troubles with supply exacerbated problems with refineries, though the rising gas prices have for months led to finger-pointing.

Some have accused oil companies of manipulating prices. The industry blamed an explosion and a strike at two refineries. Academics said the unique way that California gets and sells gas is the cause.

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