The annual climb in retail gasoline prices that pushes refineries to meet clean energy mandates has elevated the national average price of gas to $4.01 per gallon, a rise of 32 cents since Jan. 1. And Wednesday, Los Angeles became the first major metro area in the continental U.S. see its average price reach $4 per gallon.
“We’re not surprised that California is the first to break the $4 gasoline threshold,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst, GasBuddy.com. “We’re more surprised with the timing. West coast refineries always get an early start on the transition process from ‘winter blend’ to ‘summer blend’ and last year Los Angeles was at $4 per gallon in the last week of January. But it looks like this year the severe winter weather on the west coast slowed down a lot of the scheduled maintenance and turnarounds.”
Additionally, the most recent increases in California, and other coastal states, can at least be partially attributed to soaring ethanol prices. Most folks don’t know that ethanol prices have soared by $1.50 gal on the coasts in the last 40 days,” DeHaan said.
Honolulu was the first U.S. market to hit $4 in 2013 (Jan. 15). Los Angeles was second on Feb. 2, followed by 10 other California cities until New York and Chicago joined the $4 club on Feb. 15, 2013. Springtime refinery glitches in the Midwest propelled dozens of mid-continent cities to parity with NY and LA at $4 and higher. They included: Gary, IN (May 10); Des Moines, IA (May 17); Omaha, NE (May 17); Detroit (June 1); Grand Rapids, MI (June 1); South Bend, IN (June 3) Milwaukee, WI (June 4) and Indianapolis, IN (June 5).
“Higher crude oil prices this year have impacted wholesale and retail prices too,” said Gregg Laskoski, another senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. “WTI crude in the first quarter of 2013 never closed above $98 per barrel.”
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