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Will Hurricane Harvey cause a spike in SLO County gas prices?

Gas prices in San Luis Obispo County shouldn’t be affected much by refineries knocked out of service in Texas, industry experts say. On Thursday, a gallon of regular unleaded was selling for $3.25 at the Chevron at Broad and Orcutt in San Luis Obispo.
Gas prices in San Luis Obispo County shouldn’t be affected much by refineries knocked out of service in Texas, industry experts say. On Thursday, a gallon of regular unleaded was selling for $3.25 at the Chevron at Broad and Orcutt in San Luis Obispo. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Tropical Storm Harvey’s path of destruction along the oil refinery-rich Gulf Coast could cause gas prices throughout the country to spike, but San Luis Obispo County residents shouldn’t see too much of an increase at the pump.

Harvey, which made landfall in Houston and southeast Texas on Friday, ripped across a region responsible for one-third of the United States’ oil refining capacity.

Ten Gulf Coast refineries have been shut down in the wake of the storm, with six restarting and two operating at lower rates, according to AAA. This means the country’s oil production abilities have been cut by 20 to 25 percent, according to energy analysts.

But few of these problems affect California, which refines most of its own oil to comply with strict state clean fuel standards.

Drivers must use a specific fuel blend — known as California Reformulated Gasoline — so the state isn’t as susceptible to national fuel trends, according to Allison Mac, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, a consumer information site.

“The impact that Hurricane Harvey has on us is actually pretty minimal compared to the rest of the country,” Mac said.

California gas prices have gone up 3 to 4 cents this week, according to Mac and Marie Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Auto Club of Southern California.

On Friday, the cheapest price for a gallon of regular unleaded in San Luis Obispo — at Costco on Froom Ranch Way — was $2.95, while the most expensive — at the Chevron station near Santa Rosa Street and Foothill Boulevard — was $3.29.

In spite of its largely independent refinery system, California is still part of the larger oil market and could see some fuel price increases, according to Mac and Montgomery.

Mac estimated prices could rise 5 to 10 cents during the next two weeks, which would be a change from the typical post-Labor Day price dip.

“It’s pretty temporary,” she said. “How long it will last is hard to say, mainly because it’s Mother Nature.”

Montgomery said it’s tough to put a number on potential cost increases this early in the game.

The country’s average gas price on Friday was about $2.50 per gallon, among the highest seen this year, according to AAA.

Prices this week went up the most on the East Coast and throughout the South and the Midwest — South Carolina’s prices increased by at least 19 cents and Delaware’s jumped by 18 cents.

Depending on how long Texas refineries are out of commission, California — home to oil refineries that account for 10 percent of the country’s total capacity — could be called on to help out, Montgomery said. That scenario could definitely cause the state’s gas prices to go up.

“If one refinery goes down in California, we see a pretty immediate impact,” she said.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

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