The San Diego Union-Tribune (California)
Both national and local gasoline prices continued their punishing rise over the past week, but a glimmer of hope appeared locally that at least the rate of increase may be slowing.
A survey by the Utility Consumers’ Action Network found San Diego County prices rose 6 cents over the past week — but less than 1 cent since Tuesday.
The group found the average area price for regular now stands at about $2.86 a gallon, or about 66 cents more than it was this time last year. The price is an all-time record but still below the inflation-adjusted high set in 1981.
Michael Shames, UCAN executive director, said the slowdown in gasoline price increases likely reflects the pause in the crude oil market, where prices increased yesterday about $2 per barrel to $65.35 but were down $1 for the week.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, also said this week that gasoline demand appeared to dip in its most recent monthly survey, taking pressure off the market.
But Shames cautioned that any glitches in output from California’s 14 refineries could cause gasoline price increases in the state to reaccelerate.
With California refinery output barely meeting demand, he said, any shortfall could push area gasoline prices over $ 3 a gallon.
The federal Energy Information Administration’s report this week found California prices nearly 17 cents per gallon higher than those elsewhere in the country.
That represents a narrowing of the gap from the week before, however.
As prices in California rose about 12 cents in the latest EIA survey, they rose slightly more than 18 cents on average nationwide.
California truckers suffer a greater disparity than the state’s auto drivers.
The EIA survey found the state’s average diesel price was about $ 3.04 per gallon, or 47 cents higher than nationwide average. Here again, prices rose faster elsewhere in the country over the past week — by 16 cents — than they did in California, where diesel increased about 10 cents a gallon.
Since last year, diesel has increased nearly 93 cents per gallon in California, while gasoline has risen about 66 cents.
Within the state, meanwhile, Santa Barbara motorists are paying the highest prices, according to the Auto Club of Southern California. The average price in Santa Barbara was up 11 cents over the past week to $2.87, according to the club’s survey, which also pegged San Diego’s average price at $2.82, 4 cents below the UCAN survey average.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., yesterday wrote the chief executives of seven major petroleum companies asking for their “voluntary participation” in helping to moderate gas prices in California.
Feinstein asked the chief executives to provide information about their company’s plans for additional investment in West Coast infrastructure to hold future prices down.
Anita Mangels, a spokeswoman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said she had not yet seen the Feinstein letter, but she said rising prices weren’t the fault of petroleum companies.
“The price of gasoline is not determined by the oil companies,” Mangels said.
“The price is determined by the market.”
Consumer advocates, however, say oil companies are posting record profits as the runup in gasoline and diesel prices causes serious economic damage to household and business budgets.
Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, said California should implement a windfall profits tax.
“This is price gouging by the oil companies, and not a single state politician has the guts to stand up to them,” Court said. “It is a remarkable silence.”
Demand for gasoline typically declines after Labor Day weekend. Shortly thereafter, refiners seek to boost inventories in anticipation of shutting their plants for the changeover to producing winter blend gasoline. They are required to begin providing the winter blends by Nov. 1.