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California gas prices soar to record highs

A Chevron station in downtown Los Angeles had gas prices just under $6 a gallon on Oct. 22.
A Chevron station on Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles had gas prices just under $6 a gallon on Oct. 22.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Gas prices in California reached an all-time high Monday as the average price of a regular gallon soared to $4.682, according to the American Automobile Assn.

It was the state’s second record-breaking day in a row. Monday’s price for regular unleaded was six-tenths of a cent higher than the Sunday average reported by AAA, which broke the previous state record of $4.671 set in October 2012.

AAA Southern California spokesman Doug Shupe said the prices are being driven primarily by higher crude oil costs and an increased demand for fuel. A barrel of West Texas intermediate crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed at $80.79 Friday — more than double its 52-week low.

“We had really, really low demand during the pandemic, and then it just ramped up rapidly as more and more people became vaccinated,” Shupe said. “The desire to get out there and travel really picked up quickly.”

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Prices are so high — and consumers are so perplexed — that a Google search of “Why are gas prices going up?” has spiked this month.

Prices also spiked in several counties, including Los Angeles, which climbed to $4.672 Monday — nearing the record of $4.705 set nine years ago.

That number is about 7.9 cents more than it was one week ago, 20.8 cents more than one month ago and $1.52 more than one year ago.

Average prices in Orange County rose to $4.635 — nearing a previous record of $4.69, also set in October 2012. San Francisco broke its own record, with a gallon of regular gas there averaging $4.867.

California’s numbers have surpassed those of the nation, which hovered at an average of $3.415 per gallon on Monday. The all-time average high nationwide, $4.114, was set in July 2008.

In fact, national numbers have fallen nine times since Oct. 30, AAA said, after having risen steadily each of the previous 31 days. But analysts noted that “the ongoing tight supply of crude oil will likely keep gas prices fluctuating, instead of dropping, for some time.”

AAA spokesman Jeffrey Spring said the recent heavy rains were also to blame for California’s surging prices after the state’s oil refineries were “inundated with water,” affecting production. The atmospheric river in October broke several records as it dumped a deluge across the state.

“That’s what really pushed prices up in Northern California, which then pushed the average price for California,” Spring said, noting that it was not unlike the disruption experienced by some Louisiana refineries after Hurricane Ida.

Officials say it’s possible to safely participate in many holiday activities if everyone is vaccinated for COVID. But extra precautions may be needed.

The painful pump prices in California are arriving just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, which typically sees millions of people hitting the road. The auto club is projecting that about 3.8 Californians will drive to their holiday destinations this year — a 9% increase over 2020 and within striking distance of pre-pandemic levels.

“These prices are certainly frustrating at a time when we know a lot of people are going to be traveling in the coming weeks and months,” Shupe said, adding that after a year and half of travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “people are so looking forward to getting out there and having that traditional Thanksgiving again with their friends and their family.”

At nearly $60 to fill a 12-gallon tank, some may reconsider their plans, but most will likely stay the course, he said.

For those who do, AAA recommends small steps to maximize fuel efficiency, including keeping tires properly inflated and getting rid of extra weight.

And while crude prices could ease up a bit, demand is likely going to continue for the next couple of months.

“We really don’t know when we’re going to see them starting to lower,” Shupe said of gas prices. “It’s possible we could see higher prices with us through the holiday season.”


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