The bruising at the pump that began earlier this week has turned into a full-fledged assault, as supply shortages pushed Bay Area gas prices up toward $4.50 a gallon and some Southern California stations threw in the towel and shut down.
Duff Criley, a general contractor from Cupertino, figures he'll spend $150 on gas this week to keep his GMC Sierra running to job sites -- 20 to 30 bucks more than a few days earlier.
"This is ridiculous," said Criley, 55, who pulled into a Valero station off Hamilton Avenue in San Jose where gas was selling for $4.61 a gallon. A station attendant told him that he had just raised the price 20 cents five minutes earlier. "It had been holding at $3.99 for a couple of weeks. Now this. You betcha this hurts."
Commuting to her job at an insurance broker in Pleasant Hill, Glenda Bray saw prices at the local Chevron station climb 10 cents at lunch on Wednesday and another six cents by the time she got home. On Thursday, the station raised the price another 30 cents.
"I was afraid to go to lunch," said Bray, a 61-year-old Fairfield resident.
Thursday's AAA fuel prices report, which lags about a day behind reality, listed gas at $4.43 in San Francisco, $4.38 in San Jose and $4.35 in Oakland. Those prices are up 10 cents from the day before and 20 cents more than last week, mirroring trends around California, and are about 20 cents short of the all-time high from summer 2008.
"In the short term, I
How long will this last?
"We have seen price spikes like this before and they're usually short lived," said Alison apRoberts, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission. "We really have no crystal ball. But we are optimistic that it is going to be short-lived -- whether that's days (or more, we) don't quite know."
The problem continues to be lack of supply. A major Exxon Mobil refinery in Southern California is still struggling after losing power on Monday amid sweltering temperatures, leading to production problems.
It comes as Chevron's Richmond refinery continues to produce less fuel after its Aug. 6 fire. Chemical problems forced the shutdown of a pipeline that feeds gas from the Central Valley to the Bay Area earlier this week, and Phillips 66 plants are undergoing maintenance work at both ends of the state.
It could be worse, Bay Area. Some stations in Southern California, including Costco, are reportedly shutting down pumps because the wholesale prices are so high -- sometimes more than $5 a gallon -- that they can't make a profit.
"If you come here right now, I've got some diesel left. That's all. My market is open, but no gas," John Ravi, owner of the Low-P gas station in Calabasas, told Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, BART on Tuesday and Wednesday reported its fifth- and sixth-highest passenger counts ever, buoyed by the high gas prices and riders flocking to see the Oakland A's playoff push.
"For many drivers, each time they head to the pump it's like spinning the roulette wheel and the house always seems to win," said BART spokesman Jim Allison.
Other states have seen gas prices stay flat in recent days and weeks. The nationwide average price at the pump, $3.78, is actually down a penny compared with a week ago, AAA reported.
That would appear to be a relief for President Barack Obama, since gas prices are often a top election issue, but it didn't stop drivers from crowing about politics.
"A month before the election, and it's quite obvious the oil companies want (Mitt) Romney to win," groused Lew Lamar, of Felton, as he surveyed gas prices on a drive to the Santa Cruz Harbor on Wednesday. "The price was $4.20-something. When I headed home, three hours later, they raised the price to $4.65. What a scam. Like they don't get enough already."
Week ago: $4.162
Week ago: $4.245
Week ago: $4.154
Week ago: $4.133
Week ago: $3.795
Source: AAA Fuel Gauge Report.