Gas prices hit record highs again across the state, and Bay Area prices on Monday were well above the national average.
In California, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline clocked in at $4.668, according to the Automobile Club's daily fuel price report. That was a penny higher than Sunday. The national average was $3.81.
In Oakland, the average was $4.66, up from $4.18 a week ago. In San Francisco, the average was $4.73, up from $4.27 a week ago. And in San Jose, the average was $4.67, up from $4.20 a week ago.
And in Cupertino on Monday, the price of regular gasoline was a whopping $5.39.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, meanwhile, asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether refineries caused the price to spike by deliberately manipulating the supply of gasoline in the state.
On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown stepped in to increase fuel supplies in California, ordering regulators to allow refineries to make and sell cheaper winter-grade fuel earlier than is usually allowed.
And it appeared as though prices at the wholesale level were starting to come down. Taking a cue from the governor, the California Air Resources Board on Sunday night moved to increase the supply of fuel in the state, telling refineries that they could begin making and distributing a cheaper type of gasoline that is normally allowed only during the winter.
A run on supplies at the wholesale level prompted a massive spike in prices at the pump that has plagued consumers for the past week.
Last week, the price of a gallon of gasoline spiked as high as $5.79 thanks to a dramatic increase in the wholesale cost of fuel and panic-buying among gas station owners.
Jeffrey Spring, an analyst for the Automobile Club of Southern California, said a number of factors have caused prices to rise so high and so fast.
First, he said, wholesalers deliberately let their supplies of the special summer formulation of gas required by California state law for use in the warmer months, because they expected an influx of the less-expensive fuel used in the fall and winter.
But then, a power outage at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, which is not yet back up to full speed, and fears of contamination in a Kern County pipeline drove supplies down further.
“Concerns in the wholesale market caused retailers to panic a couple of days ago,” he said last week.
Many purchased supplies quickly and pushed prices way up.
The impact at the pump was immediate.
“It’s the biggest spike we’ve seen all year,” Spring said.
The Auto Club is expecting the price hikes to be “severe, but short-lived,” Spring said.
The organization has an online service that helps consumers find the least expensive gasoline in their area. Here is a link to that page.