So Much for Cheaper Gas: Pump Prices Go Haywire in California

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Amid an especially screwy year for gas prices—expectations of $3 per gallon one day, followed by acceptance that 2012 will be the priciest year ever for gas soon after—drivers all around the country have good reason to complain. But no one has the right to complain as much as California drivers, who have watched gas prices soar over the last week and are currently facing all-time high prices at the pump.

As of Monday, the average price for a gallon of regular in California was at a record high $4.67, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That’s 85¢ above the national average ($3.82), and also well higher than the average in the states that traditionally have the priciest gasoline, Alaska ($4.16) and Hawaii ($4.40). For that matter, plenty of stations in California are charging over $5 per gallon for a gallon of regular: $5.05 in Menlo Park, $5.49 in downtown Los Angeles, upwards of $5.79 in Simi Valley, and so on.

It’s not just how high gas prices have gone, but how quickly they’ve risen that’s agitating drivers in the Golden State. Some stations have hiked prices 20¢ per gallon overnight in the past week, while a station in Mountain View couldn’t wait for the nighttime lull to make the switch, raising prices 10¢ in the blink of an eye around dinnertime.

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By now, California drivers should be somewhat accustomed to wildly fluctuating gas prices. The in-state average hit around $4.40 in the spring, a period when prices rose as much as 15¢ in a single week, only to drop below $4 by mid-June.

The latest round of soaring prices in California is being blamed on problems with oil refineries and pipelines. The result, as Bloomberg News reported last week, has been rationing around the state, with gas stations forced to hike prices to break even and sometimes to shut down due to shortages or because they were losing money.

On Sunday, a release from California Governor Jerry Brown’s administration announced action was being taken:

“Gas prices in California have risen to their highest levels ever, with unacceptable cost impacts on consumers and small businesses,” said Governor Brown. “I am directing the Air Resources Board to immediately take whatever steps are necessary to allow an early transition to winter-blend gasoline.”

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The move is expected to lower the price of gasoline by 15¢ or 20¢ per gallon, but it’ll take a few days before drivers will see the price break at stations. In the meantime, drivers may sympathize with the actions taken by alleged criminals in northern California last week: Thieves reportedly decided the time was ripe to steal around 1,000 gallons of gas from stations on three separate occasions, using a special tank in the bed of a pickup to hold the fuel.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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