Consumer

Gas prices remain high as harvest season begins

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gas prices have dropped a few pennies over the last week or so, but local experts predict prices could remain above the $4 mark for several more months.

According to AAA, Fresno drivers are currently paying an average of $4.14 a gallon for gas. That's compared to $2.91 last year. The current price in Merced and Visalia is one-cent higher at $4.15 a gallon.

The august 6 refinery fire in the Bay Area and the tail end of the peak summer travel season - those are the two main culprits, local gas experts say, that are driving up prices at the pump.

They say the recent spike is impacting industries like farming, trucking and construction particularly hard in the last few weeks.

It's harvest time in the Central Valley, which means trucks are loading up on fuel to transport grapes, tomatoes and other goods all over California.

But right now drivers are paying more at the pump and local business owners say it's putting a strain on families and farmers' finances.

"Just a few weeks ago, it was in the high threes, to go up 30 cents is expensive," Jeff Spratz of Fresno said.

"Diesel prices shot up as well as gas and so they're all feeling it right now. It couldn't have come at a worse time because we just started harvest season and things are really starting to move," West Hills, Inc. owner Scott Cain said.

Cain owns West Hills Incorporated, a local refinery in the community of San Joaquin. He says the Fresno fuel market is particularly volatile because it falls at the end of the pipeline from the Bay Area.

"The long term trend has been prices are way up because of this chevron refinery fire in Richmond. That's caused prices to spike and I don't think that unit is going to come on for several months," Cain said.

He says right now drivers are paying about 50 cents more for a gallon of diesel fuel than this time last year, and prices for gas could remain above $4 dollars for at least 3 to 6 months more months until Chevron, the state's second-largest refinery, comes back online.

"When you lose a player like that it's going to leave a mark for quite a while," Cain said.

Cain says there is some good news down the road - gas prices will drop some now that the days are getting shorter, families are traveling less and the peak summer driving season is starting to cool off. But it could be this fall or winter before we see gas in the $3 range again.

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gas prices, central valley, consumer, linda mumma
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