How low will they go?
Nationally, gasoline prices headed nowhere but down for a record 127 consecutive days — a streak that ended Jan. 27, when they rose a fraction of a penny. But in Cambria, in San Luis Obispo County’s priciest region for gas, prices remained just below $3, a milestone reached a few weeks earlier and one that left local observers both grateful and surprised.
“Price fluctuation is typically this much,” said Eric Johnson, co-owner of the Old Cambria Marketplace Shell station, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. “I didn’t think Cambria would ever see gas below $3 again.”
Across San Luis Obispo County, prices ranged Tuesday between a low of $2.36 at the Stop N Buy station at 459 W. Tefft St. in Nipomo and a high of $3.15 at the Chevron station at 1798 Main St. in Morro Bay. San Luis Obispo’s lowest price per gallon on Tuesday was $2.39 at Costco. Paso Robles’ was $2.45 per gallon at the Corner Store on Spring Street.
Christopher Gutierrez, who owns the Cambria General Store on Main Street with his father, said he was “very surprised” that gas prices had fallen this far in Cambria. But he predicted they might have further to fall: “I think it’ll get lower,” he said at his shop last week. “Maybe $2.50.”
The price for a gallon of gas at the General Store was $2.97, the cheapest in town by two pennies (as it customarily is). The Chevron station on Main in the East Village listed regular unleaded at $2.99, as did the Old Cambria Marketplace up the road in the West Village.
Recent market activity may indicate that prices aren’t going any lower, at least for now. Oil prices fell below $44 a barrel in New York on Jan. 29, their lowest level in nearly six years, amid rising U.S. production and mounting oversupplies.
But they rose again from there, topping $53 a barrel Tuesday, their high point of the young year.
On top of that, gasoline prices are typically cheapest during the winter — especially in California, which mandates a switch to more expensive summer blend gasoline during the spring — so Johnson at Old Cambria Marketplace didn’t foresee much more of a drop at the pump.
“I think it’s done,” he said. “I think you’re going to see it start going up. I don’t think the OPEC nations are going to let it stay that way.”
Still, he doesn’t envision prices rising to the levels they were a year ago, when a gallon of unleaded averaged $3.71 in San Luis Obispo County and was running nearly $4.20 in Cambria.
“There’s no reason for it to get high like it was, unless there’s some kind of shortage,” Johnson said. “Cars have continued to get more and more economical, and the demand has continued to decrease year after year.”