Gov. Jerry Brown ordered California smog regulators to allow an immediate switch to winter-blend gasoline, a move designed to ease the supply crunch that sent prices skyrocketing nearly 50 cents a gallon in six days.
On Sunday, the governor ordered the California Air Resources Board to allow refineries and gas stations to roll out winter gasoline before its previously scheduled Oct. 31 sales date. That should boost gas supplies 8-10 percent "with only negligible air-quality impacts," Brown said.
In a letter released at noon, Brown said the supply crunch threatened "significant economic disruption and serious harm to public safety and welfare."
An analyst said California's wholesale gasoline market had gone "into a panic about the adequacy of California fuel supplies." In an interview with City News Service, Jeffrey Spring of the Automobile Club of Southern California blamed the squeeze on a power failure at ExxonMobil's Torrance refinery and the shutdown of a Chevron pipeline that moves crude oil to Northern California last Monday.
Other factors include local refineries dropping production levels, energy companies exporting fuel to Mexico and other countries, and allowing inventory to dwindle in anticipation of switching over to production of winter blend gasoline, Spring said.
The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles County hit a record $4.661 a gallon Saturday, up 12.2 cents from Friday. In Orange County, it settled at 1 penny lower than L.A. Local prices jumped another 4 cents Sunday.
An analyst quoted in the L.A. Times predicted prices would drop 15 to 20 cents because of Brown's order, although it may take a few days to kick in.
Some environmentalists worried the move would hurt air quality in October, traditionally one of the hottest months in coastal California because of Santa Ana winds and other seasonal fluctuations.
Winter gas evaporates more quickly and is believed to increase smog in hot weather. California isn't the only state with custom gasoline formulas. In Arizona, for instance, Tucson uses a similar oxygenated blend during winter, and Phoenix stations pump it year-round. By one estimate, 34 states use special gasoline blends, typically during summer months.
Brown said he expected California prices to settle down now that the ExxonMobil refinery has resumed operations. A Tesoro refinery in the South Bay is also expected to resume production next week, after a maintenance shutdown.
Previously on Patch: Gas Shortage Hits OC Costcos