Appeal-Democrat Archive Writing

Gas prices giving state drivers a break

June 13, 2007

Pump pains for drivers have eased slightly in the last month, but it will be awhile before prices return to where they were a few years ago, according to a American Automobile Association report.

The average price for a gallon of gas dropped 21 cents to $3.16 in Marysville between May 15 and June 12. Only Chico and Tracy are cheaper at $3.15. The statewide average was $3.30.

AAA spokesman Sean Comey said the price drop-off is still below what is expected this time of the year, but prices have become difficult, if not impossible, to predict in the past five years.

“There is no normal anymore,” Comey said. “The factors have gone well beyond rainy days affecting travel.”

Comey attributed the high prices to a high demand that moderated slightly in the survey period and an abnormally high number of problems with refineries.

He added that some of the decline in prices could be the result of increased political pressure and negative publicity for energy companies.

The high demand has created a short supply for gasoline in California, which made for a difficult transition from the winter blend to the summer blend, said Tupper Hull, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman.

The difference in the blends creates a cleaner burning fuel for the warmer summer months when more people travel and the air sets more, Hull said. This transition normally happens in the beginning of March.

The demand in California has left a shortfall of 3.5 million gallons of gas per day, according to the California Energy Commission. In previous years, there has been enough of a supply to allow the switchover to go smoother with little increase in prices, Hull said.

Compounding these problems were a number of accidents and fires that shut down parts of refineries throughout the transition process. This has left production levels at their lowest in the last 10 to 12 years, Hull said.

“It seems like it was a difficult spring,” he said.

To make up for the average shortfall of 3.5 million gallons, gas has to be imported from the Northwest, the gulf coast and even the Middle East, Hull said. This importing pumps up the price of gas to cover transporting expenses and an increased demand.

More gas had to be imported with a short supply during the blend change, which drove prices higher, Hull said.

Both Hull and Comey recommended that drivers cut back on driving to cut back demand and hopefully bring prices down.

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