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U.S. gasoline prices projected to hit $2.03 by December

A Chevron station near downtown Los Angeles on July 13.

A Chevron station near downtown Los Angeles on July 13.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

U.S. gasoline prices are projected to fall through the end of the year to almost $2 a gallon -- but California drivers won’t be so fortunate.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that low oil prices and the end of the summer driving season will continue to propel a decline in gasoline prices nationwide.

AAA reported the current national average for a gallon of regular gasoline at $2.38. In California, the state average was $3.25, and the Los Angeles region was at $3.45 a gallon.

California typically has gasoline prices higher than the rest of the nation but the gap has been wider than usual, particularly in Southern California, because of troubles with refineries, according to some analysts.

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Marie Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Automobile Club Southern California, said area consumers can find per-gallon prices as low as $2.99 at individual gas stations.

“You really do want to shop around right now,” she said. “You can see a 40- to 50-cent difference in price.”

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However, Montgomery said, it’s unlikely California motorists will see anything as low as the $2.03 national average projected for the end of the year.

The refinery troubles are a significant problem, she said. She pointed, for example, to Exxon Mobil’s Torrance plant, which has operated at less than 20% capacity since an explosion there in February.

In addition, Montgomery said, California has the highest gas taxes and fees in the nation, at about 70 cents a gallon.

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Those factors and others have caused California’s average gas price to surpass Hawaii’s -- $3.02. Hawaii usually has the highest average gasoline price in the nation.

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“I don’t think California gasoline pumps register under $3,” quipped Jamie Court, president of the advocacy organization Consumer Watchdog. “The West Coast is going to continue to be the ATM for the big oil refineries until there’s a law to stop this.”

For more energy news, follow Ivan Penn on Twitter: @ivanlpenn

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