LOS ANGELES — Gas in California cost $4.676 a gallon on average Sunday, setting the state’s highest recorded average price for regular gasoline, according to AAA.
America’s largest state by population has the highest gas prices in the country. The national average dropped slightly to $3.413 Sunday.
Gas prices in San Diego County, meanwhile, remained below the highest recorded average for the region. On Oct. 8, 2012, it was $4.725. Sunday’s local average was $4.626 — its highest since 2012, but firmly below the record.
“To put this in perspective, people who drive a mid-size sedan with a 14-gallon fuel tank are paying $24 more today than one year ago,” said Doug Shupe, a spokesperson for AAA of Southern California.
Out-of-state visitors are also experiencing a bit of sticker shock.
“The prices are really high here,” said Alaa Elnakoury, who is visiting from Egypt. “We came from Vegas and in Vegas it is much cheaper, so I don’t know ,but I guess we have no choice anyway.”
Experts say there are a number of factors causing the increase.
“Crude oil prices remain extremely high as a result of the demand for fuel, which is putting upward pressure on prices at the pump,” Shupe said. “Typically, this time of year, we see prices at the pump falling after Labor Day. After family vacations are over, kids are back in school. We usually see prices at the pump move lower, but that is not the case this year.”
In the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area, the average gas price was $4.665 on Sunday — a few pennies short of the highest recorded average of $4.705 set in October 2012.
Nationally, gas prices actually decreased on average this week, though analysts note that prices remain quite high. According to the experts at GasBuddy, high prices can be attributed to a variety of factors.
As the world bounces back from the pandemic and gets moving again, a surge in demand for crude oil has outpaced supply, driving prices up by the barrel. That cost is then passed on to customers at the pump.
The federal government has limited opportunities to directly affect the price of gasoline for customers. President Joe Biden has called on OPEC — the governing body for 13 oil-producing countries that provide most of the world’s supply — and Russia to “pump more oil” and balance out the supply for rising demand.
Those nations have “increased production at a slower, ‘cautious’ pace instead of doing so on the timetable that Biden would like,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, says.
As a recent Poynter analysis highlights, the president could potentially take steps to ramp up production at home, though that clashes with his stated domestic environmental goals and those of his party. Across the aisle, he faces criticism from Republicans who say he should do more increase to America’s output.
Regardless, U.S. producers can’t necessarily ramp up production as quickly as OPEC can, even if they chose to, experts explain.
“Increasing domestic production isn’t a policy decision. It is a private sector response,” James H. Stock, a professor of political economy at Harvard University, told Poynter.
With all that considered, analysts aren’t anticipating a major change soon.
“With President Biden still mulling over options to help push gas prices down, we could continue to see some volatility in oil prices,” GasBuddy’s De Haan said. “I don’t immediately see a large decline or surge coming in the run up to Thanksgiving, but U.S. gasoline demand does remain strong.”
De Haan added that so far, there’s no clear sign that the high prices are significantly curbing the amount of fuel people are buying.