Nowhere to go but up

When will we see some relief from surging gas prices in Sacramento? Some experts say it could take a while.

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the April 25, 2019 issue.

Average gasoline prices in California are now their highest since 2015—and they’ll soon climb even higher, analysts are saying.

On April 10, California surpassed 2015’s peak of $3.894 per gallon on average, rising to $3.895 per gallon, according to GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan. The petroleum think tank predicts gas prices are likely to reach $4 per gallon next month, which would be the highest since July 27, 2014.

In Sacramento, the average stood at $3.92 on Monday, almost a half-dollar more than a year ago.

Sacramento resident Kyle Durham said that commuters like him are feeling the difference. Durham recently accepted a new job with higher pay, but surging pump prices are eating into his profit margin.

“The longer commute wasn’t a big deal to me, but now that gas prices are reaching nearly $4 a gallon in some places, that tune has changed. Currently when you factor in how much I’m spending on gas, I’m hardly making more money than my previous position,” Durham said. “I never thought I’d see the day where gas prices would potentially play a significant role in making life decisions such as potential employment.”

Sacramento resident Todd Goodwin said he’s already paying more than $4 a gallon at his local gas station.

“I really wish something was being done in Sacramento to help lower gas prices,” said Goodwin, who commutes to East Roseville during the week. “Considering I just paid 20 cents over $4 a gallon, I hope we get some relief soon.”

Gas prices are rising due to continued problems at California refineries, DeHaan found, drawing fuel inventories nearly 20 percent below 2018 levels. A report from the Energy Information Administration showed a weekly decline of 84 million gallons (2 million barrels), which means gas prices are still some time away from reaching a peak, DeHaan determined.

“That has meant refineries must start building inventories from scratch to meet seasonally stringent specifications for gasoline. In addition, several California refineries are also in the midst of planned maintenance, further tightening supply,” DeHaan said in a release. “Oil prices have also increased to the highest level in five months, reaching $63 per barrel as of Friday April 5.”

Ethanol prices have fluctuated due to recent flooding in the Midwest, contributing to Sacramento’s rising prices. But the largest factor remains unexpected refinery outages, DeHaan said.

GasBuddy recommends motorists abstain from filling their tanks for now, to avoid making the supply issue worse.