Kaci Poor and Luke Ramseth
Humboldt County motorists are finally seeing relief after wholesale fuel prices across the state surged to record-breaking highs in October.
AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said California prices dipped below $4 last week, with the state average hovering at $3.92 on Thursday. That’s a huge drop from one month ago when the state average was $4.67, Harris said.
In Eureka and Southern Humboldt, prices hovered just under $4 Thursday afternoon, compared with nearly $5 a month ago. Prices ranged from $3.79 to $3.99.
The single-pump Indianola Market off Old Arcata Road was charging customers $3.90 for a regular gallon. Owner Shelly O’Brien said she is relieved about the drop. She said it means happier customers, and she’s no longer concerned about her old-fashioned pump, which only goes up to $4.99.
"It takes the pressure off me," said O’Brien, who has worked in the gasoline business for 21 years. She said she’s noticed customers in the last few years becoming numb to sometimes wildly fluctuating gas prices.
"People just don’t say as much as they used to," O’Brien said, before she served up several hot dogs for a customer. "People are just like, whatever." Harris said the early introduction of winter-blend gasoline - a cheaper blend that evaporates more quickly than summer-blend gasoline - as well as a decrease in demand are contributing to the drop in prices.
"Right now, we are just sort of coasting and watching prices continue to tumble downward," Harris said. "It’s definitely great news for the consumer."
In October, gasoline wholesale prices across the state rose dramatically - hitting nearly $5 on the North Coast - after an August fire left a Chevron Corp. Richmond refinery running at reduced capacity and Exxon Mobil Corp’s Torrance refinery experienced a power failure in October.
On top of that, Chevron’s Kettleman-Los Medanos pipeline, which carries crude oil from Kern County to Northern California refineries, also shut down, and Phillips 66 planned general maintenance on two Southern California refineries.
Harris added that while Hurricane Sandy created some disruption on the East Coast, with two refineries announcing temporary closures, it did not appear that the superstorm had an impact on West Coast gas prices.
"It was really a unique situation that caused the fluctuations in October," Harris said. "Unless something major like that happens again - like a storm or refinery failure - we are anticipating that prices will continue to level off."