California produces just as much gasoline as it needs, a little over a billion gallons a month, so when you have hiccups in production, gas prices can go up. One trade association has an idea to increase supply now.
To bring down high gasoline prices, the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, which represents independent station operators, filed for a waiver with state regulators asking that they be able to sell winter blend fuel now. The annual switch from the more complicated summer formula to the easier-and-faster-to-make winter blend doesn't officially happen until October 30th.
"Allowing winter gasoline to be used sooner in California will certainly provide additional supply very quickly and that would help with prices," said Gordon Schremp from the California Energy Commission.
But the wheels of government run slowly -- the US EPA rarely grants state waivers. The last one it granted was after Hurricane Katrina. And because California has special restrictions to ensure we have the cleanest gasoline in the world, the state must sign off first.
"You have another layer of government activity that has to take place legally," said Schremp.
As painful as the prices are, not everyone thinks California should switch to winter blend so soon when temperatures can still be on the high side. Just this week, parts of the state suffered through a heat wave when summer fuels can help fight off health-damaging pollution.
"Cleaner-burning gasoline, or California gasoline, is a key control measure. It cuts the emissions that cause smog and send people to hospitals and emergency rooms," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen from the American Lung Association.
With the Exxon-Mobil Torrance Refinery back online, though, supply should increase. Wholesale prices already dropped 40 to 50 cents, but it won't be reflected at the pump until next week. So expect prices to stay high for a few more days. Long term, the oil industry says California needs to expand infrastructure: build more refineries, pipelines and storage. But that's not as easy as it seems.
"The difficulty is that Californians generally love their environment and they don't want to have facilities that they perceive to be degrading that environment. On the other hand, they want to have cheap gas. So this is a conflict," said Prof. Dudley Burton, Ph.D., from the Sacramento State Environmental Studies department.
There is no timeline to make a decision on that state waver, state regulators have had that request now for three days.
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