Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Maintenance Issues at California's Refineries Lead to Gasoline Price Increase

5/1/15 - Drivers throughout California have been noticing gas prices climbing swiftly over the past few weeks, and they don't like it. In the last week by itself, prices have gone up by almost 34 cents, 6 cents of which happened over the course of a single day. Is this due to the state of the economy, or to supply-and-demand, or due to something much harder to control? Samantha Masunaga and Andrew Khouri, in their L.A. Times article, conclude that the increasing prices are mainly due to mechanical issues in gasoline refineries around the state.

California's refineries produce most of the gasoline used within the state, since production and delivery of California's “cleaner-burning blend” can be too expensive for out-of-state refineries to consider it economically viable. Furthermore, since the refineries produce as much gasoline as possible, any break in the production chain can cause massive issues throughout the system. Even if one factory would have to close down for repairs, the amount of gasoline in California would fall, making the available gasoline that much more expensive. The system leaves very little room for delays.

Unfortunately, refineries have been forced to stop or lessen production in order to perform maintenance work, whether planned or otherwise. After a February explosion at Exxon Mobil Corp.'s refinery in Torrance as well as some other, minor, issues elsewhere, the supply of gasoline is running low, thus forcing up the prices. Although the oil-refining companies are producing less, they still have contracts that obligate them to provide a certain amount of gasoline to customers, such as gas stations. In order to do this, they are forced to pad their supplies with purchases of gasoline from other refineries.

Many are upset about the price increases mainly due to the shock of it. When the price of a tank of gas increases by $20 to $30 in a month, it is hard to see it coming. To make matters worse, companies that purchase gasoline from other refineries during a time of low production try to keep such transactions secret, so as to not case a “pop” in the market. On the other side of the argument are the average Californians, who use gasoline and want some way to be able to predict when prices will go up. When a company has to purchase gasoline from another refinery, it is pretty obvious that they are having some issue with production.

The average person has had to cut down on certain “unnecessary” expenditures in order to put more money toward filling up the tank. Some have been forced to cut items when grocery shopping, and others have stopped eating out at restaurants. While gasoline prices are still, on average, below what they were this time last year, some areas are feeling far worse effects. A big cause of this, as Khouri and Masunaga point out, is that the market full of secrecy. If people know when companies are planning to purchase large amounts of gasoline from other sources, they will be able to more easily predict fluctuations and therefore plan out their gasoline purchases in a more beneficial manner. Gasoline has almost become like stocks, constantly changing and difficult to predict successfully. That could all change if refineries develop some transparency and give customers a fighting chance.

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