With gas prices at record high, state officials call for probe, switch to 'winter gas'

Average price of gasoline now at $4.72

SAN DIEGO - The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in San Diego County increased again Monday to a record high of $4.72. That's 56.3 cents more than this time last week.

Governor Jerry Brown is ordering winter-blend gasoline to be sold a few weeks early, which could lower prices. California Senator Dianne Feinstein is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether there was anything illegal about the recent spike in gasoline prices.

The governor ordered the California Air Resources Board to allow refiners and gas stations to roll out the winter blend before its previously-scheduled Oct. 31 sales date, an action the governor said will increase gas supplies up to 8-10 percent, "with only negligible air quality impacts."

In a letter released Sunday, as California gas prices fluctuated widely for the seventh straight day, the governor said the market variations were imposing "unacceptable cost impacts on consumers and small businesses." This, he said, was threatening "significant economic disruption, and serious harm to public safety and welfare."

As of Sunday, average price in San Diego County has gone up 55.8 cents over the past week, which included a jump of 19.5 cents on Friday, according to the AAA and Oil Price Information Service. It was 55.4 cents higher than a month ago and 91.3 cents more than a year ago.

An analyst said California's wholesale gasoline market has gone "into a panic about the adequacy of California fuel supplies," Jeffrey Spring of the Automobile Club of Southern California said the market disruption followed a power failure at the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery and closure of a Chevron pipeline that moves crude oil to Northern California last Monday.

Other pressure on the state's gas market includes local refineries dropping production levels, energy companies exporting fuel to Mexico and other countries, and allowing inventory to dwindle in anticipation of switching over to production of winter blend gasoline, Spring said.

"I am directing the Air Resources Board immediately to take whatever steps are necessary to allow for an early transition to winter-blend gasoline" to be sold in California, the governor said in a letter to Mary Nichols, his appointed head of the CARB.

Some clean air advocates had worried that such a move would hurt air quality in October, which is one of the hottest months in coastal California due to Santa Ana windstorms and other seasonal weather fluctuations.

The governor said Sunday that winter gas evaporates more quickly than summer blend, which takes longer to evaporate and is better during the smoggiest months of the year in the summer.

Brown said he expected gas prices to settle down, now that the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance has resumed operations following an electricity outage last week. A Tesoro refinery in the San Pedro area is expected to resume production next week, after its maintenance shutdown.

Charles Langley, a public advocate for the Utility Consumer Action Network, told 10News that consumers should expect the price of gas to drop immediately by as much as 20 to 30 cents a gallon in the next two days.

"They're probably not going to give back that 75 cents a gallon they've been taking from us," said Langley. "They don't want to do that because price spikes are very profitable and this is a business that's all about profits."

Drivers like Terry Lucas of Lemon Grove were thrilled to learn their next tank of gas will not cost so much. 

"Hopefully tomorrow, everybody is going to have a smile on their face," said Lucas.

Other drivers told 10News how the spike in gas prices have impacted them.

"Right now it's killing me," said Terrell Anderson. "I have an Expedition, but I have to drive my small car. I drive like 40 miles a day."

Check gas prices in your area and find the cheapest: http://www.10news.com/traffic/gasprices

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