With gas prices again on the rise, relief could be on the way

A Chevron gas station during daytime hours.
A sign at a downtown Los Angeles gas station Wednesday displayed prices even higher than the average in the region.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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With fuel prices steadily climbing again nationwide, Southern Californians are experiencing some of the worst pain at the pump, thanks to a string of issues at local refineries.

A move by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to switch to winter-blend fuel earlier than usual, however, could bring relief within weeks.

From Wednesday to Thursday, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California surged by nearly 14 cents to $6.03, according to AAA.


By Friday, the average price had risen to nearly $6.08.

In the Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area, a gallon of regular was, on average, $6.31 as of Friday.

That’s not too far off the record-high statewide average of $6.43 per gallon set in June 2022.

The main local issue driving up prices continues to be planned and unplanned outages at fuel refineries in Southern California, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, the Boston tech company behind an app that helps people find gas stations offering cheaper fuel.

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“Two refineries are undergoing maintenance, which is not usually problematic,” De Haan said. The maintenance is usually performed during periods of lower demand in the fall and spring, but this year, the timing is lousy. “In the last couple of weeks, we’ve also seen continued problems at other refineries that are experiencing unexpected outages.”

And getting a refinery back to producing gasoline takes time even after a problem is fixed, he said.

“It’s not just like a light switch,” De Haan said. “You don’t just throw a refinery, you know, into ‘on’ mode and it goes.”


As a result, the gasoline supply in Southern California has been hit hard, he said, and he estimated the missing fuel volume could be in the millions of gallons.

The same confluence of factors at local refineries contributed to a surge in fuel prices about this same time last year, when gas prices soared nearly as high as the record levels seen in 2022.

On Wednesday night, in an interview after the second Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, Newsom blamed high gas prices on oil companies “ripping us off.”

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“When you add the gas tax, you add the cap-and-trade, and you add the low-carbon fuel standard ... and you add our unique blend, you get a differential of around 85 cents” compared with the rest of the country, Newsom said in the interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“That,” the governor said, “you can justify. Not $2.06.”

Last fall, Newsom issued a waiver allowing distributors to transition early to the cheaper, but less-climate-friendly winter blend of fuel.

He issued a similar directive Wednesday, the Mercury News reported.


In the directive, Newsom also ordered the state Energy Commission’s Division of Petroleum Market Oversight to bring him proposals on how to protect Californians from “market distorting behavior,” the Mercury News said. The division was established earlier this year to investigate possible price gouging in the state by oil companies.

De Haan said the effects of the winter blend entering the market might be seen in the form of lower gas prices within the next two weeks.