Benicia refinery is down, so gas prices are up

Friday, March 29, 2019
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Californians are paying more at this gas pump this week, and most of us don't even know why.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- Californians are paying more at this gas pump this week, and most of us don't even know why. Part of the problem is driving up fuel prices across the country, but the other part is entirely homegrown.

"$64 and I'm halfway there"

One man filling up a truck with a thirsty 32-gallon gas tank at $3.73 a gallon at a Shell in Walnut Creek was feeling the pain when we met him-- he was at $64 and only half full.

Tanisha Love of Berkeley is feeling a different kind of burn as she fills up at a 76 in Emeryville.

"I just put $35 in now and I'm pretty sure I'll fill up two more times before next week," she said.

Regular goes for $3.79 a gallon there.

But no matter where you are, drivers are unhappy.

"It's just going higher and higher and it's becoming ridiculous because we're not earning that much and everything is in fluctuation," according to Sofia Ayar of Walnut Creek.

Just how big is the price hike? Mike Blasky of AAA says it's significant.

"Over the last week, we've seen about a 17 cent jump in gas prices. A pretty quick spike of almost 20 cents in a week."

Economist Severin Borenstein of UC Berkley's Energy Institute says it's a problem of supply and demand.

"That happens because California has very few producers and we generally see a very tight supply-demand balance."

That balance is further disrupted when a California refinery is down. In this case, Valero's Benicia plant is down while they fix a problem that caused several releases of a powdery petroleum byproduct that could affect people's health. Couple that with higher prices from oil-producing countries and California's special gasoline formulation, and that spells pain for your wallet.

"California has a formulation that's not used anywhere else in the world. It's cleaner burning than anybody else's gasoline and it does keep our air clean, but it means we pay more," Borenstein said.

If you're wondering what the final bill was for the man for whom $64 was just halfway, he says it was $84 even.