Energy Economy

Gas Prices Surge Toward $5 in California

Most of the focus on the rise in gas prices, caused by the surge in oil prices, has been the effect of the march toward $4 a gallon. The focus is misplaced, at least to the extent that in several regions, most notably California, a gallon of premium may hit $5 before Labor Day.

The price of a gallon of regular nationwide has risen to $3.635 from $3.483 a week ago, up almost 5%. Drivers who use premium have it worst. The current price nationwide on average is $3.960, up from $3.823 a week ago. Nearly every analyst who follows these prices thinks that they face weeks, and perhaps months, of further increases.

Unrest in Egypt is most often blamed for the rise of crude above $100 a barrel. The chaos there may spill over to oil-producing nations, and even the Suez Canal could be shut for some period. The influence of a future supply of shale oil has been forgotten because the effects are too far off. The focus on oil prices has returned firmly to the Middle East.

The average cost of a gallon of gas does not mean much to many people in states where prices have been high — and very high — off and on since oil rose well above $100 in 2008. California is almost always the state where gas prices are highest, although Hawaii and Connecticut sometimes match it.

The price of a gallon of premium in California now is $4.221. The price would have to rise less than 20% to get to $5. In the most recent week, the surge has caused experts to believe that $4 premium gas prices could be a reality everywhere soon.

A quarter of America’s population lives in states where premium could breach $5. This includes California, Illinois, Connecticut, New York and Michigan. No state will avoid $4 premium prices, most likely.

Gas at $4 a gallon will cause a panic among consumers, particularly those who are hard pressed to make ends meet. For those who drive cars that run on premium, the issue will be much, much worse.