Gas prices increase after Richmond refinery fire

Derek Remsburg/Senior Staff
After a fire rendered portions of the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond inoperable, gas prices have spiked in Berkeley and nearby areas.

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Gas prices in Berkeley have been on the rise since a fire at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond rendered a portion of the facility inoperable.

The price spike that began the morning after the fire and continued through the following week has pushed prices to more than $4 per gallon, with some Berkeley gas stations reporting a wholesale price increase of as much as 50 cents per gallon.

According to Chevron Communications Specialist Melissa Ritchie, the fire is one factor among others — including the cost of crude oil — that has influenced the price of gasoline.

Chevron refineries provide about 20 percent of California’s gasoline and about 68 percent of jet fuel used by Bay Area and Sacramento airports, Ritchie said.

Denton Cinquegrana, an executive editor at Oil Price Information Service, estimated that the Richmond refinery might have to scale back to around 60 percent of its operational capacity.

But according to Alison apRoberts, an information officer at the California Energy Commission, the decrease in production at the Richmond refinery has been offset by an overall increase across the state. Data collected by the California Energy Commission shows that 461,000 gallons of crude oil were added to state refinery production between Aug. 3 and Aug. 10.

“We’re optimistic,” apRoberts said. “Refineries have increased their production, (so it) looks to us that there is reason to feel they can meet the increased demand.”

The Aug. 6 refinery fire prompted a temporary shelter-in-place order to be issued in Richmond, north Richmond and San Pablo. A federal investigation into the cause of the incident by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has begun, although officials said at a press conference on Tuesday that they had not yet been able to access the site due to personnel safety issues.

The Richmond refinery is one of the largest of 14 oil refineries in California that produce a particular blend of gasoline required under California state law. Prior to the fire, it refined 245,000 gallons of crude oil per day, according to data provided by the California Energy Commission.

Bridgeway Service and Touchless Car Wash — two independently owned Berkeley gas stations — are now selling their regular gasoline at $4.19 per gallon, which is even higher than the California state average of $4.10 reported by AAA’s price survey and the California Energy Commission.

Mohamed Hammami, the store manager at Touchless Car Wash, said the price the station pays for a gallon of gasoline has jumped about 50 cents since the fire.

Steve Carvalho, owner of Bridgeway Service, reported a 28 cent per gallon increase from his supplier.

However, Cinquegrana predicted that at least the retail price of gasoline would likely stop rising.

“The worst of the price spike at the retail level is probably in the rearview mirror at the moment,” he said.

As for the refinery, Cinquegrana estimated about three months until it returns to its full capacity, gauging from similar fires that have occurred in the past.

Mary Jane Perna, an Albany resident who stopped at Touchless Car Wash to refuel on Tuesday, said she had noticed an increase in gas prices.

“I’m unemployed at the moment, so it makes me wince,” Perna said.

Carvalho, who recalled even larger spikes in recent years, sounded resigned to fluctuations in gas prices.

“I don’t even look anymore,” Carvalho said. “When they say it goes up, I say ‘fine.’ What am I going to do, close my doors?”