After weeks of slow but steady declines, Southern California gas prices
are ramping up again.
On Tuesday the price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area hit $4.09, up 16 cents from a week earlier, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. The Inland Empire posted a similar hike of 14 cents, bumping its average up to $4.04 per gallon.
"This is the end for any hope of gasoline prices on the West Coast," said Bob van der Valk, managing editor of the Bakken Oil Business Journal. "We'll be at $4.25 a gallon by Memorial Day, and then it will level off and start heading up again as it gets closer to the Fourth of July. By then it will be $4.50 a gallon."
That's not what Southland motorists want to hear as the summer vacation season approaches.
"It's high," said Thelma Herrera, 45, of Baldwin Park. "We're driving our smaller car because it's getting too expensive to use the big one. Everything is high. When you go to the store meat, milk, vegetables ... everything's expensive."
Consumers aren't the only ones feeling the pinch.
RapidShuttle, which maintains operations in Woodland Hills, Torrance and Fullerton, is forced to absorb the loss when gas prices rise.
"We have less of a profit," Manager Paul Portugal said. "We're basically losing money, but our rates have to be competitive so we only increase them once a year. We base the increase on the average price of gas for the previous year."
When it costs significantly more to fuel the company's fleet of 20 sedans, minivans and minibuses, the loss in profits is noticeable, Portugal said.
"You never get used to it," he said. "These vehicles each log about 70,000 to 80,000 miles a year, so we lose about $1,800 to $3,000 per vehicle. But when gas prices go up we have a tendency to keep our prices the same or even lower them to entice people to use our service. That's just the way the business works."
Van der Valk said the rising prices are being driven primarily by refinery problems and the turnaround refineries do as they convert to California's summer blend, which yields less fuel per barrel.
"The ConocoPhillips 76 refinery in Wilmington reported flaring Friday afternoon," he said. "Any time a unit goes down they have escape valves for the vapors."
Van der Valk said the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance also suffered a "power bump," which temporarily put its fluid catalytic cracker unit out of business.
"ExxonMobil came back up, but they didn't want to buy gas on the spot market so they raised their prices," he said.
On Tuesday, the lowest gas price in Southern California could be found at American Gas & Food in Ontario, which posted regular at $3.73 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.com . A Sam's Club in Long Beach advertised regular for $3.81 a gallon and a Costco in San Dimas was $3.85 a gallon.
On the flip-side, a Shell station in Los Angeles was selling regular for a whopping $5.09 a gallon and a Union 76 in Santa Monica listed it at $4.99 per gallon.
California's refinery production of gas for in-state use for the week ended May 3 -- the most recent period for which figures are available -- was nearly 6.8 million barrels, up 13.8 percent from the previous week, according to figures from the California Energy Commission. That figure doesn't reflect the refinery problems that have occurred since then, however.
The state's inventory of gas for in-state use was also up for the week ended May 3, topping out at nearly 4.6 million barrels. That was up 13.6 percent from the previous week.
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