Although drivers saw some relief at the gas pumps over the past few months — with the nationwide averages on a steady decline for more than 100 days near the end of September — refinery issues have sent California’s gas prices soaring once again, with some local stations charging as much as $6.99 heading into the weekend.
According to the latest weekly report from GasBuddy, which compiles data from more than 150,000 gas stations across the country and more than 50 stations across Santa Barbara, the local average has risen 66.2 cents in the first week of October — from $5.55 to $6.21 — which is nearly a dollar higher than the average from the first week of September, and almost a full two dollars higher than the average in October 2021.
The state and local average are in stark contrast to trends across the country: Nationwide, the average has risen 11.1 cents in the past week to $3.78, while in Northeastern and Gulf Coast states, the average has continued to decline.
“With gas prices continuing to surge on the West Coast and Great Lakes, the national average saw its second straight weekly rise,” said GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, Patrick De Haan. “But at the same time, areas of the Northeast and Gulf Coast have continued to see declines as the nation experiences sharp differences in trends between regions.”
DeHaan said states on the West Coast saw prices increase on average from 35 to 55 cents per gallon due to issues at refineries that “continue to impact gasoline supply,” which fell to its lowest level in a decade. And while there is some hope on the horizon, he said, it may get worse before it gets better.
“While I’m hopeful there will eventually be relief, prices could go a bit higher before cooling off,” De Haan said. It also depends on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which he says could decide to cut oil production “by a million barrels as the global economy slows down, potentially creating a catalyst that could push gas prices up further.”
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The Santa Barbara average is at a historic high as well. According to GasBuddy’s figures for the past decade, the local average was at its previous highest in October 2012, when Santa Barbara gas averaged $4.28 a gallon while the nationwide average was the same as today, $3.78. Then prices dropped steadily to a low of $2.83 in October 2016, before slowly creeping back up to an average of $4.27 in the beginning of October 2021.
In a letter to the California Air Resources Board, Governor Gavin Newsom said, “If this situation continues, it may cause unacceptable price impacts for consumers and small businesses, significant economic disruption, and serious harm to public safety and welfare.”
Some of the supply issues can be attributed to the specific blends used in California gasoline. There is a “summer blend,” Newsom said, that is typically used through October, and a “winter blend” that is sold after October 31. If the state allows the winter blend to be sold earlier, he said, it may ease some of the supply issues.
“Due to the composition of the gasoline, refiners can produce more of the winter blend than the summer blend, and refiners have already begun producing and storing winter blend gasoline,” he said. “In light of the dramatic increase in gas prices that California is experiencing, we should not wait until the end of the month to start distributing or to ramp up production of our winter blend gasoline.”
The early transition “could quickly increase fuel supply and provide a much-needed safety valve with minimal air-quality impacts,” he added, directing the Air Resources Board to “immediately take whatever steps are necessary” to make the transition possible.
For up to date information on local prices, and a list of the 10 cheapest stations in Santa Barbara, visit GasBuddy.com.