A perfect storm of reduced capacity, lost power and scheduled maintenance at California refineries stunned motorists as gasoline prices soared to record highs in the Bay Area on Saturday.
Prices rose as much as 11 cents a gallon overnight to smash records in the metro areas of San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, according to the Fuel Gauge Report put out by AAA.
The good news, analysts said, is that gas prices in California are expected to level off and begin falling by midweek.
On Saturday, though, prices statewide matched the all-time high at an average of $4.61 set in June 2008. And prices at some Bay Area fueling spots surged way beyond that. At one Menlo Park Chevron station, regular gas was selling for $5.05 a gallon and premium for $5.31.
"I am thoroughly disgusted," said Yoli Schoof, who had just spent $91.66 to fill up on premium at another Menlo Park Chevron on El Camino Real on Saturday afternoon. "I've never paid this much for gas in my life."
She and plenty of other motorists said there's no valid reason for gas prices to rise so sharply now.
In San Jose, the average price jumped to $4.63 a gallon for regular gas, 6 cents higher than the 2008 record and up 9 cents since Friday. Mid-grade gas Saturday morning jumped to $4.72; premium was $4.83. The average for regular gas was up 46 cents from a week ago and 83 cents a gallon over a year ago.
In San Francisco, average prices hit $4.69 a gallon for regular, breaking the record by 7 cents and up 9 cents overnight. Prices there rose 44 cents in the past week, and 79 cents since last year.
Average gas prices in the Oakland metro area rose 11 cents a gallon overnight to $4.63 for regular, 6 cents over the previous record.
Prices in Santa Cruz County came just a penny shy of breaking the record, at an average for regular of $4.58 a gallon Saturday. The average was up 45 cents from a week ago and 77 cents more than the same time last year.
Analysts said that a convergence of events has constricted the flow of fuel to the pumps, pushing up wholesale and then retail prices.
"People have a hypersensitivity when it comes to gasoline prices. When they're pumping that gas and they're seeing the price roll up, that's got to make their blood boil," said Gregg Laskoski, a Tampa, Fla.,-based petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com.
And because many Americans have no choice but to drive, "they also feel that their hands are tied," he added.
At a Unocal 76 station in Concord on Saturday, 48-year-old Doreen Greenhill, of Pittsburg, said she works days at Concord High School and also part-time at night to supplement her income. So she sometimes faces a difficult choice.
"Week to week, we have to think about whether this is the week we should not buy food because we have to fill up the tank, or do we skip filling the tank because we have to eat?" Greenhill said.
In the past week, an Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance lost power, a Chevron pipeline in the Central Valley shut because of high levels of organic chloride found in the gas, and two Phillips 66 plants in Rodeo and Arroyo Grande reduced production for planned maintenance. In addition, the Chevron Richmond plant remains at reduced capacity since the September fire.
But Laskoski said problems with supplies have been brewing since summer. Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf of Mexico disrupted supplies of crude, which took a while to restore. And the Sept. 11 attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others sent crude prices up to $99 a barrel.
But, Laskoski said, with crude supplies stabilizing and now lower-priced winter blend gasoline coming onto the market, prices should be headed downward.
And, he said, they should stay that way between now and year's end "if we avoid a war in the Mideast, if there's no conflict between Iran and Israel."
While the record prices had many drivers steaming, some took a different perspective.
"It's high, but we pay more for bottled water than for gas," said Daizie Labelle of Menlo Park, as she filled up. She's originally from Ontario, Canada, where prices when she visited over the summer were $1.40 per liter, or $5.32 a gallon.
Besides, she mused, her 10-cylinder BMW M5 gets only 12 miles to a gallon.
That's one thing she can't blame on Big Oil.
In buying a car, she said, "We should have made a better choice."
Staff writer Rick Hurd and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.
For regular gas Saturday Previous record
Oakland $4.63 $4.57
San Francisco $4.69 $4.62
San Jose $4.63 $4.57