Californians woke up to a shock Friday as overnight gasoline prices jumped by as much as 20 cents (U.S.) a gallon.
The latest jump, due to supply disruptions at some refineries and seasonally low inventories, brought the one-week increase in the Golden State to nearly 36 cents a gallon (about 9.5 cents per litre), with some stations shutting down after running out of gas.
The average retail price of gasoline was $4.486 on Friday morning, up from $4.315 on Thursday and $4.131 a week ago, according to AAA data. The average price was $3.818 a year ago. The average price is just 12 cents below the highest recorded statewide price of $4.61, which was reached in June of 2008.
"It's insane," said Matt Hurd, 35, who works in real estate. "Especially with this thing," he added, motioning toward his white SUV. "It's going to cost triple digits to fill it up."
But even as Golden State motorists awoke Friday to another jump in prices, signs emerged that the worst of the runup was over: ExxonMobil said operations had resumed at a local refinery that had been unexpectedly shut by a power outage; wholesale prices dropped 55 cents, and Costco Wholesale Corp was preparing to reopen several stations.
"The situation is starting to improve already," said Richard Galanti, chief financial officer at Costco, which had been forced to shut about 14 its 40 Los Angeles-area stations. He said five of those were expected to reopen on Friday.
Even so, the sticker shock was still reverberating across the state and officials rushed to reassure consumers that California was not running out of fuel.
At a gas station in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, prices were up 41 cents from Thursday and well above $5 a gallon.
"I'm absolutely shocked that gas here is $5.39," said Jennifer Wilson, an executive recruiter from San Diego who stopped to fuel her Toyota Corolla on her way to picking up her daughter, a student at UCLA.
"We need at least a half tank to get back to San Diego. I'm definitely feeling the pain," she said.
In recent weeks, California refineries have dropped production in anticipation of switching over to a "winter blend" of gasoline next month.
At the same time, a power outage at Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Torrance, Calif. refinery on Monday and a shutdown of the crude distillation unit at Chevron Corp.'s Richmond, Calif. refinery contributed to the tight supplies.
Phillips 66 also said a planned maintenance was under way at its 120,200 barrel-per-day San Francisco-area Rodeo refinery.
Chevron said a pipeline that carries crude oil from the state's Central Valley to refineries in the San Francisco Bay area has been closed since mid-September.
On Thursday, the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, which represents wholesale and retail marketers of gasoline, asked the California Air Resources Board, an air quality regulator, to allow early sale of winter-blend gasoline, the CEC said.
Gas stations in the country's most populous state can begin selling winter-blend gasoline, which more easily releases smog-causing substances, on Nov. 1. Until that date, only summer-blend gasoline, which is less likely to evaporate into smog-causing chemicals, can be sold.
In the Los Angeles area on Friday, the average price climbed 19 cents to $4.539 from $4.347 a day earlier. In San Francisco, prices climbed 16 cents overnight to $4.596.
With files from AP