California gas prices surge to five-year high; what's causing the spike?

California residents are paying much higher prices at the pump compared with the average U.S. resident.

As of Thursday, the average gasoline price in the state was about $4.02, according to AAA, compared with the national average of $2.83.

Those are the highest prices California has seen since 2014. Prices have risen around 68 cents per gallon over the course of a month.

What’s driving prices to multiyear highs? According to Dan McTeague, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, it’s a supply crunch resulting from refinery upsets in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“California’s unique gasoline standard means replacements for the shortfall in production aren’t easily found and … explains why drivers there have seen gasoline prices spike nearly 68 cents a gallon in just a month,” McTeague told FOX Business.

Drivers in Los Angeles have seen prices rise 71 cents per gallon in a month, while the increase was 72 cents in San Francisco.

Compounding the issue is massive flooding that occurred throughout parts of the Midwest, which affected ethanol blends and was expected to cause short-term pain at the pump for people in coastal areas due to distribution disruptions.

It doesn’t appear as if there is any near-term relief on the horizon for California drivers either. McTeague predicts that prices could rise another 10 cents, assuming refineries are able to resume production levels, which is far from a certainty.

California also has among the highest gas taxes in the country.

While these conditions may be specific to California’s refineries, a number of factors are expected to drive prices up around the country throughout the coming weeks. According to senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy Patrick DeHaan, a variety of seasonal factors – including refinery maintenance – could drive the national average up to around $3 per gallon either later this month or next.

Gas prices were among the top expenses Americans were concerned about in 2019, as previously reported by FOX Business, after drivers spent $388 billion at the pump last year.


The good news is relief could follow a near-term price spike. DeHaan told FOX Business he expected prices to cool over the summer months, with prices falling into the $2.50 to $2.70 range.

While California prices are the highest in the nation, Alabama had the lowest prices as of Thursday, at about $2.50 per gallon.