A man pumped gas in Los Angeles County on October 5, 2012 after the largest single-day increase. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

A new study says that when Californians were paying more at the pump for gas this spring and fall supply was actually increasing.

Independent energy analyst Robert McCullough told a California State Senate Select Committee today he can’t rule out the possibility that Chevron, Shell and Exxon manipulated prices.

McCullough analyzed data on nitrogen oxide emissions from the state’s oil refineries. He found that in May and October, despite reports of outages and shutdowns, they continued to produce enough gasoline to cause inventories to rise.

“If you were actually buying and selling gasoline, and the amount of gasoline is increasing in the market, you’re wondering why we would have the largest price spike in our history at that exact moment,” McCullough said.

A spokesman from the Western States Petroleum Association told lawmakers he could not explain what caused the price spikes.

Gas prices rose sharply after a fire in BP’s refinery in Cherry Point, Washington, Feb. 17, then again after a fire in Chevron’s Richmond refinery.

And another expert at the hearing connected price hikes to these outages. Outages affect gas prices more in California than in other states, said Gordon Schremp of the California Energy Commission. That’s because California is far from refineries in other states, and there are no pipelines bringing oil into the state. So when an unplanned refinery outage occurs here, it takes longer for supplies from elsewhere to make up for the drop in production.

Overall, price spikes make the price of a gallon of gas 7.6 cents more expensive in California than the rest of the United States on average, he said.

But other factors play a bigger role in high prices here, according to Schremp. Higher refinery production costs add 10 cents per gallon in California, and higher taxes add another 19.6 cents. (The average state levies 49.3 cents of taxes per gallon compared to 68.9 cents in California.)

On the other hand, Schremp said, demand for gas in California has been declining. Consumption in 2011 was 8.2 percent less than in 2004, he said.

Analyst: No Gas Shortages During Price Hikes 15 November,2012KQED News Staff

  • earlrichards

    California is a victim of an Enron-style, rip-off by Big Oil and their refining companies. Google the “$2.5 Trillion Oil Scam – slideshare” and google the “Global Oil Scam.” California is a victim of this scam. BP and Shell are partners in ICE and Chevron and ExxonMobil are “silent partners” in ICE. There is no shortage of oil and gasoline in California, because there 3.5 billion barrels of oil in the ground. The price of gasoline in California should be the same as in Saudi Arabia, about 50 cents a gallon. Jerry Brown should look into this. California does not need pipelines from the east, because California gets its oil from Alaska, itself and Ecuador. If the demand for gasoline is declining, then, the gasoline price should be dropping.

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