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Why Southern California gas prices jumped up this week

A gas station in West Los Angeles charges $4.49/gallon for regular unleaded on July 14, 2015.
Ben Bergman/KPCC
A gas station in West Los Angeles charges $4.49/gallon for regular unleaded on July 14, 2015.

Local drivers who filled up their tanks this week are experiencing sticker shock.

Gas prices took a big jump this week. The average price of gasoline in Southern California shot up 67 cents to an average price of $4.22 per gallon, according to the gasoline price monitoring site GasBuddy.

On its website this morning, the company announced that a 67 cent increase marks the biggest weekly spike in gasoline prices in California (according to their site's own data and history monitoring local gas prices).

"The current spike dwarfs the state’s previous record weekly spike of 52.7 cents that occurred on October 7, 2012, after Chevron’s refinery in Richmond caught fire," the company said in a blog post Tuesday.

Explaining the reasons behind fluctuating gas prices can be a fool’s errand, but in this case, GasBuddy petroleum analyst Allison Mac says it’s pretty simple.

“We’re physically waiting for a boat to come in with cargo full of gas,” Mac said. Until the boat – or boats – get here, there’s not enough supply, so prices rise.

California is considered a distinct market from the rest of the U.S. because of state requirements to produce a less-polluting blend of gas known as CAROB. The state's supply has been further constricted this year because an Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, which normally supplies 15 to 20 percent of the region’s gas, has been partially shutdown since an explosion in February.

Gas imports have been way up since then - but halted last week, according to Hannah Bruel, an industry economist at the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

“There’s been a steady and elevated flow of imports to the region – about three to four times higher than the normal volume – and then last week that number went to zero," said Bruel. "Barrels have to come from further and further away, which just introduces more things that can cause delays."

Neither Bruel nor Mac know what exactly caused the delay in this case, but they say the good news is when those barrels arrive – prices will decrease. However, GasBuddy forecasts prices could rise another 10-25 cents before going back down.