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California gas prices continue to climb

October 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
California is seeing new record highs in gas prices Sunday, making the state the most expensive place for gas in the nation.

In Los Angeles County, the average price for a gallon of regular is $4.70, up 4 cents from Saturday and 53 cents from last week. Drivers in Orange County are paying $4.69, while the Inland Empire is at $4.67 and Ventura County is seeing $4.69. The average statewide is a record $4.61.

On Sunday afternoon, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered California smog regulators to allow winter-blend gas to be sold earlier in a move aimed at boosting the gasoline supply and reducing prices. Winter-blend gasoline is typically not sold until Oct. 31.

"Gas prices in California have risen to their highest levels ever, with unacceptable cost impacts on consumers and small businesses," said Brown said in a statement. "I am directing the Air Resources Board to immediately take whatever steps are necessary to allow an early transition to winter-blend gasoline."

The winter-blend mixture evaporates more quickly than the gasoline sold in summer months, which takes longer to evaporate and is better for air quality during the smog season. Officials said the early release of the winter blend will have a negligible impact on the state's air quality.

The surge in prices is being fuelled by several factors, including a power outage at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance last week. The plant said it has since gone back on line, but an analyst tells Eyewitness News that's not true, citing cranes at the refinery as a sign that work continues.

"They are ready to start up their units, but they are far from getting it up to full capacity where they actually are producing gasoline," said Bob van der Valk, a petroleum industry analyst.

On Saturday, prices tied a record set in June 2008 after jumping overnight to an average of $4.61 a gallon.

Increases in gas prices are expected for several more days. Analysts predict prices could peak as high as $4.85 before finally leveling off. Prices were expected to stabilize in the coming days.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she suspects there may be an illegal motive behind skyrocketing gas prices. She has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.