California's new oil watchdog questions price spike as gas crosses over $6 in San Diego

Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

The director of California's new Division of Petroleum Market Oversight has raised some questions about the surge in gasoline prices that has socked drivers across the state.

In a four-page letter sent Friday to Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders in Sacramento, Tai Milder pointed to the rising cost of crude oil but said, "Those increases do not fully explain the increase in everyday prices that Californians pay at the pump or the increasing differential from national average prices."

Milder's letter goes on to say his division's review of recent data shows that refiners this summer "did not maintain adequate levels" of gasoline or did not import enough fuel "to sufficiently backfill production shortfalls."

The recent run-up in prices has been partially blamed on planned and unplanned California refinery outages. The letter says the Division of Petroleum Market Oversight is reaching out to refineries to get additional information but added that prices have spiked "in a manner that does not appear to be completely explained even by these supply-and-demand fundamentals."

Intriguingly, the letter also makes specific reference to what it called "an unusual transaction" on the California spot market in which gas prices rose 50 cents per gallon on Sept. 15, according to the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), a private company that provides pricing information used for commercial contracts and trades on the fuels market.

The oversight division, the letter said, "is monitoring for any other potential trading irregularities, as well as gathering additional information from the parties to this transaction."


The issues raised in the letter come as gas prices in California are soaring.

The average price for a gallon of regular in the San Diego area surpassed the $6 mark on Saturday, according to AAA of Southern California, and stood at $6.039 on Monday. That's 17 cents per gallon higher than one week ago and 69 cents higher than last month.

A similar run-up in prices occurred last fall, when San Diego average prices reached an all-time high of $6.435 on Oct. 5, 2022.

Responding to complaints from Golden State drivers, Newsom last October called for a special session of the Legislature "to address the greed of oil companies" that are "ripping you off at the pump."


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