What the Heck is Up With These Gas Prices?

'Up' being the operative word. What's behind the steep overnight price hikes?

If you're like me, when you drove past the first gas station on your route Thursday morning, you blinked and rubbed your eyes, thinking, "I must be hallucinating."

Unfortunately, we weren't - gas prices really did go up an average of 20 cents per gallon from Wednesday night to Thursday morning. Since Thursday, prices are now up nearly 50 cents per gallon, and are teetering dangerously on the edge of $5 a gallon.

So, what's behind it?

After watching CNN religiously over the past few days and doing hours of online research, trying to find some sort of explanation, I've come across two possible explanations.

1) The quietest oil refinery fire in history - It's astounding to me how little news coverage an oil refinery fire in Baytown, Texas (east of Houston) that took place last Wednesday, Oct. 3 is receiving. The refinery - one of Exxon Mobil's - is reportedly one of the largest in the world, and certainly the nation, pumping out more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day. It took firefighters three-and-a-half hours to extinguish the blaze. 

Reuters reports that, between "Middle East tensions" and the Texas refinery fire, gas prices and oil futures jumped 4 percent overnight. (But, come on - when are there NOT "Middle East tensions?")

2) California and it's 'special blends' - As my East Coast-raised husband likes to say, gas prices are nuts around here because of California "and all it's silly special blends." According to reports by CNN, many gas stations across the state are actually running out of gasoline, as California works to switch production over to its mandatory-by-law "winter blend."

CNN reporter Paul Vercammen said Friday, "If refineries could convert to winter grade fuel sooner - which costs a lot less to produce than the environmentally friendly summer-grade fuel - the prices could be a lot cheaper. But a waiver from the Air Quality Control Board is required. Until then, it's tough times here in California."

Why does California need so many different seasonal blends, when most other states across the country don't feel the need? Seasonal blends....really, is it gas, or Starbucks coffee?


Patch can help you find the best gas prices in town!

Have you checked out Redwood City-Woodside Patch's Commute Guide? Get the latest traffic updates for your commute, find alternate routes when there's a backup, and find out which gas stations in town have the cheapest gas on any given day.

This weekend, it appears the cheapest gas in Redwood City and Woodside is at Woodside Gas & Shop at 845 Woodside Road in Redwood City, where you can get a price of $4.17 per gallon. You can also find a price of $4.19 per gallon at Canyon Gas & Propane at 590 Canyon Road in Redwood City.

Sounds a lot nicer than hitting up gas stations on El Camino Real, where the average price right now is $4.56 per gallon.


PATCH WANTS TO KNOW - Do you buy into these reasons? Or do you think the sudden price spike is due to something else? How are you easing the pain at the pump these days? Tell us in the comments below.


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Alisha Relac October 07, 2012 at 03:27 PM
So why did you delete all of the comments. Fatherland Security give you a call?
Lou Covey, The Local Motive October 07, 2012 at 04:15 PM
There's a website and app called Gasbuddy.com that can find the latest gas prices locally, but there is only one that is consistently the lowest in RWC: The ARCO station on Middlefield. It will match the price for Costco. The problem is a lot of people know about it and you can waste the gas saving just idling while waiting for a chance to pull into the tiny station. Same with the ARCO on Woodside. I generally avoid going there because I had a fender bender in the station because of the lack of control of the traffic flow. The refinery fire in Texas actually doesn't affect our gas prices because of the blend requirements of California. We can only get gas from the refinery complexes in Richmond and Los Angeles. LA had a power outage at the complex which stopped production for several days and reduced the overall supply of gas. The Richmond fire was less than a blip on the supply. The LA outage was what caused the real spike. Plus the refineries are switching over to the winter blend, which means they all shut down and supply gets tighter. Regarding the blends, the state legislature, when they passed the bill requiring the different blends, were sure the rest of the country would follow suit. That didn't happen because the other states found a way to keep their supplies high and prices low by blocking delivery to California. Essentially, we are subsidizing gas prices for the rest of the nation.
Jennifer van der Kleut (Editor) October 07, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Great insights, Lou, thanks!
Jennifer van der Kleut (Editor) October 07, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Alisha - I asked, it doesn't appear anyone on our staff deleted the comments. It may have been a system glitch. Feel free to re-post your comments. As long as they don't violate our terms of service (excessively vulgar or profane, hate speech, etc.), they won't be deleted, we welcome readers' thoughts.
Buck Shaw October 08, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Humm! I wonder if they like our sacrifice ( higher prices ) for the clean air we supply the other states. Given that the general flow of wind and weather is West to East. Or maybe just maybe they think California is nuts and they don't follow our evangelistic way. Praise green, Oh! CARB thou art the Lord. Sustain me in my recyciling ways. Take eat this beet juice, Climb the compost pile and place a plastic bag on the alter of leaves and remember thy cry! " Use plastic and save a tree"
Aaron October 13, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Now I am curious about the nature of the comments. Maybe talk about peak oil production? The coming collapse of an industrial economy driven by access to cheap energy? The spilling of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and our oceans? Perhaps discussion of an upcoming military occupation of Venezuela began to unfold? keep calm and carry on, the fed has been suppressing the price of gold on the world market for decades now... surely we can keep oil under $108.25 a barrel. You all can vote for who you want this election. It's all about Nixon Now!
Aaron October 13, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Richard Nixon Three weeks ago, I spoke to you about the national energy crisis and our policy for meeting it. Tonight I want to talk with you again to report on our progress and to announce further steps we must take to carry out our energy policy. When I spoke to you earlier, I indicated that the sudden cutoff of oil from the Middle East had turned the serious energy shortages we expected this winter into a major energy crisis. That crisis is now being felt around the world, as other industrialized nations have also suffered from cutbacks in oil from the Middle East. Shortages in Europe, for example, are far more critical than they are in the United States. Already seven European nations have imposed a ban on Sunday driving. Fortunately, the United States is not as dependent upon Middle Eastern oil as many other nations. We will not have a ban on Sunday driving, but as you will hear later, we are going to try to limit it. Nevertheless, we anticipate that our shortages could run as high as 17 percent. This means that we must immediately take strong, effective countermeasures.
Aaron October 13, 2012 at 02:48 AM
In order to minimize disruptions in our economy, I asked on November 7 that all Americans adopt certain energy conservation measures to help meet the challenge of reduced energy supplies. These steps include reductions in home heating, reductions in driving speeds, elimination of unnecessary lighting. And the American people, all of you, you have responded to this challenge with that spirit of sacrifice which has made this such a great nation. The Congress has also been moving forward on the energy front. The Alaska pipeline bill has been passed. I signed it into law 9 days ago, right here at this desk. The Congress has passed a fuel allocation bill which I will sign into law on Tuesday.1 An additional emergency bill providing special authority to deal with this problem has now passed the Senate.
Aaron October 13, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Switch "Alaska Pipeline Bill" for "Keystone XL Bill" and Nixon for Romney .... boy, we sure could use a republican like Nixon now...


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