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Gas Prices Rise Almost 15 Cents a Gallon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline jumped almost 15 cents in Southern California during the last two weeks, but the chairman of the California Energy Commission said prices will pull back because they are “fueled by speculation.”

The average price for a gallon of regular self-serve unleaded gasoline is almost $1.34 in Southern California, according to a spot survey of 12 Southern California cities released Tuesday by the Automobile Club of Southern California. Two weeks ago, the average price was about $1.19 per gallon.

“It’s not as high as some people had been speculating, but it’s a fairly steep increase in two weeks,” said Jeff Spring, spokesman for the auto club, which is the largest affiliate of AAA.

The price of gasoline in California began rising a month ago because of problems at several refineries, including the complete shutdown of a Tosco Corp. facility near the San Francisco Bay Area town of Martinez after a fatal explosion and fire. Higher oil prices also followed promises of production cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. In addition, gasoline demand is rising.

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Price increases have been even greater in Northern California, where hikes of up to 40 cents a gallon have been reported.

California Energy Commission Chairman William J. Keese acknowledged that some gasoline marketers are having problems getting fuel to sell, but added that prices should begin to decline as the state’s refineries resume full production.

“Current gasoline production levels will not continue to support the high prices consumers have been paying at the pump,” Keese said. “This market has been fueled by speculation during tight supplies over the past two weeks, and the consumer has felt the pinch.”

The state’s refineries are now producing 888,000 barrels of reformulated gasoline a day, about 96% of normal production, he said. Extra shipments from out of state began arriving this weekend and should continue for two weeks.

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