It is not your imagination. California, like the rest of the country, pays more at the pump.
The prices are so high – and consumers are so puzzled – that a Google search “Why are gas prices rising?” Has increased this month. Likewise, people plead: “When do gas prices go down? which has also been trending on Google.
The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $ 4.54 in California, about $ 1.16 more than the national average, according to data from the AAA.
But a daring station along the Big Sur Coast was charging $ 7.59 a gallon for regular unleaded this week and nearly $ 8.50 for premium.
The Gorda by the Sea Mini Mart, located along a remote stretch of Highway 1 in Monterey County, warns, “Next gas 40 miles north, 12 miles south. “
Although the shock of Gorda’s pump stickers has garnered national attention, experts say these prices are an anomaly.
“99.9% of motorists don’t buy gasoline over $ 5,” UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein said.
Yet prices have continued to rise across the state. The average price of a gallon of regular self-serve gasoline in Los Angeles County on Friday rose for the 11th day in a row, the biggest week-over-week increase since March.
And prices in Southern California are the highest in the past decade. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, motorists are paying about $ 19 more to fill a standard 14-gallon tank than they were a year ago.
“Typically, we start to see prices drop after Labor Day because people have finished their summer road trips,” AAA spokesperson Doug Shupe said. “But this year is different. “
A surge in crude oil prices, which are just over half of the price at the pump, has contributed to the surge in gasoline prices.
For much of 2020 – a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders and restricted travel – crude prices have fallen. Last October, a barrel of crude cost just under $ 35, according to the Energy Information Administration. A year later, crude oil futures are closing in on $ 85, an increase of over 140%.
“The demand is back. It has been a difficult few years with the pandemic, ”said Shupe. “Now, with the increase in vaccinations, more and more people want to go out and share the open roads with their friends and family. “
Californians have historically paid more for gasoline than in other parts of the United States due to higher environmental taxes and charges. Since 1996, cleaner-burning gasoline has cost more, but the trade-off has been a cleaner sky, Borenstein said.
“Forty years ago you couldn’t see the mountains in Los Angeles,” he says. “Now you can. “
There is also a “mysterious gasoline supplement” which Borenstein said appeared in 2015 and which is unclear to the average consumer and even to experts like him. The high prices were so baffling that Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the California Energy Commission for an analysis in 2019, suggesting “inappropriate industry practices” were pushing up costs per gallon, rather than state surcharges. .
Experts say there should be some relief in the coming weeks when gas stations in California switch to their winter blends, which are cheaper to produce. By November, prices could drop about 12 cents, but Shupe said higher costs for butane and crude oil would likely make the drop smaller than in previous years.
Complaining about gas prices is understandable – and universal. But Borenstein said he had another way of looking at the numbers: “In some ways, what we’re seeing reflects good news: the economy is coming back. “
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.