It’s not your imagination: Gas prices leap |

It’s not your imagination: Gas prices leap

Gas prices took a double-digit spike during the past month, ending months of decline that brought gas prices to their lowest levels in years.

Retail gas prices in Northern California jumped 17 cents a gallon between Feb. 12 and March 12, according to an American Automobile Association survey released Tuesday. The average price of Northern California gas hit $1.45.

Prices at seven gas stations in Grass Valley were up 19 cents Tuesday from Feb. 12, averaging $1.45 a gallon, according to a survey by The Union.

AAA reported that Sacramento prices hit $1.46 a gallon, up 20 cents. In Marysville, prices were up 19 cents to $1.45.

In January, prices at the pump tumbled to their lowest levels since March 1999. Higher crude oil prices and refinery production glitches are blamed for the turnaround.

The AAA attributed the increase to the annual switch to a cleaner-burning summer fuel blend, which reduced supplies.

Production problems last week caused speculation that supplies were going to be tight, said Rob Schlichting, spokesman for the California Energy Commission, which prompted wholesale gas purchases – and prices – to surge.

Production at one California refinery was delayed last week when it tried to come back online after switching to a summer blend.

“A lot of what drives the market is speculation,” said Schlichting. “When people think gas is going to get tight, they start buying.”

Production for the week ending Friday was 2.1 percent below the week before, he said.

Spot wholesale prices jumped to 91 cents a gallon last week from 78 cents the week before. Many non-branded independent stations buy gas on the spot market, so tight supplies mean they pay more for gas – sometimes more than the branded suppliers if gas is scarce enough, according to the California Energy Commission.

Crude oil is more expensive as well, accounting for 13 cents of the retail price increase, said Schlichting. The price of Alaskan North Slope crude oil was $5 per barrel higher Monday than at the beginning of the year, said Schlichting.

The good news: Prices in wholesale markets are leveling off, a trend that could eventually show up at the retail pump. And gas prices are still cheaper than at this time last year.

“Even with the recent spike, today’s price is 30 to 40 cents less than this time last year,” said AAA spokesman Atle Erlingsson.

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