Tight Supplies Drive Up Gas Prices In The West

Gas prices are falling overall — but in California and much of the West, they are on the rise. Tight supplies are to blame.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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There is a clear trend in the price of gas, and it is down in much of the country, down more than 10 cents a gallon over the last month. The price of crude oil dipped to a seven-month low today in trading in New York, and that should help keep gas cheap for a while. But that is cold comfort to drivers on the West Coast. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, prices there are up more than 15 cents over the last week.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: I'm standing on a south Los Angeles corner, and the price at that gas station, 4.49 a gallon for unleaded, 4.79 for premium. The gas station owner said he did not want me talking to his patrons. I've tried a couple of gas stations around here, and they've asked me to leave. So I walked down to the corner at this local hardware store to ask people what they think of that steady and steep rise in prices.

CRAIG FRISINGER: I think it's kind of crazy. Nothing else goes up and down that much.

KAHN: Craig Frisinger is a local real estate agent. He's sitting in his Chevy Avalanche making some phone calls. He says his SUV gets about 15 miles to the gallon. It cost him $135 to fill it up this week. Last week, it was $100.

You drive your car all the time.

FRISINGER: Yes. Yes, all the time.

KAHN: Have you thought about a smaller car?

FRISINGER: I do have a smaller car. I'm just not driving it today.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KAHN: The day I stopped and talked to you.

CRAIG FRISINGER: Yes. Yeah.

KAHN: Frisinger says he plans out his day better so he drives less.

Gustavo Espinosa, a local handyman, tries to do the same but says it's tough. He's in charge of more than 100 apartments.

GUSTAVO ESPINOSA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says he's looking for a part-time job or trying to get some extra hours to make some more money. His employer only gives him $30 a week for gas. He spends at least 55.

So why is gas so expensive here versus the rest of the country? Greg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com, says there just isn't as much gasoline along the West Coast as there usually is.

GREG LASKOSKI: California has had a decrease in the number of refineries operating within the state. It used to have 14 refineries. Now it has 12.

KAHN: And Laskoski says four are currently offline for maintenance. Making matters worse, a large BP refinery in Washington State has been shut for months because of a fire. Overall, gasoline supplies in California are down more than 20 percent compared to last year.

Gordon Schremp, senior fuel specialist at the California Energy Commission, says the Washington plant should be up and running soon, and maintenance will be done at some, if not all the California plants.

GORDON SCHREMP: We think this recent price spike in the wholesale market is over and that consumers should start to see some relief at the pump pretty soon.

KAHN: That news came a bit too late for Isaiah Meders. He already quit his job, which was about 30 miles from his house. He got another one much closer to home.

ISAIAH MEDERS: I've been cleaning off the mountain bike. And I'm going to take a couple days and use my mountain bike to get to work.

KAHN: Analysts say prices should come down in the West, hopefully in time for the Memorial Day weekend. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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