RICHMOND, Calif. — A major fire at one of the country’s biggest oil refineries that sent scores of people to hospitals with complaints of breathing problems will push gas prices above $4 a gallon on the West Coast, analysts said Tuesday.
The fire, which sent plumes of black smoke over the San Francisco Bay area, erupted Monday evening in the massive Chevron refinery about 10 miles northeast of San Francisco. It was out early Tuesday, although officials were still conducting a controlled burn.
The West Coast is particularly vulnerable to spikes in gasoline prices because it’s not well-connected to the refineries along the Gulf Coast, where most of the country’s refining capacity is located, analysts say.
The Chevron refinery is particularly big and important to the West Coast market, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.
It produces about 150,000 barrels of gasoline a day – 16 percent of the region’s daily gasoline consumption of 963,000 barrels, he said.
With inventories of gasoline in the region already low compared with the rest of the country, pump prices in California and elsewhere on the West Coast will soon average more than $4 a gallon, Kloza said.
California’s average price Tuesday for a gallon of regular gasoline was at $3.86.
Chevron spokesman Lloyd Avram said he did not have an update on when the refinery could be restarted and declined to comment on what kind of impact the shutdown might have on the gasoline market.
Analyst Patrick DeHaan of the website GasBuddy.com warned that Oregon and Washington would also see a price hike in the coming weeks.
“Spot prices have already increased by as much as 30 cents per gallon in some West Coast markets and that’s before the refinery damage has been fully assessed,” DeHaan said.
Tuesday afternoon in Tacoma, several stations were still selling at $3.49 a gallon, according to thenewstribune.com/gasprices. Gasbuddy.com listed Tacoma average prices for a gallon of unleaded at 3.684, with the price going up.