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California moves to ease sky-high gas prices. How soon will they fall?

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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

(Read caption) Cars line up to get gas at a Costco gas station in Sacramento, Calif., Friday. California Gov. Jerry Brown has moved to ease the shortage by allowing winter-blend fuel to be sold a month early. But California gas prices may take time to fall back to more normal levels.

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One by one, the temporary props that have kept California gasoline prices artificially high are getting knocked out. But how quickly gas prices stop rising and fall back to more normal levels remains an open question.

On Friday, ExxonMobil's 149,000-barrel-per-day refinery in Torrance, Calif., resumed normal operations after a power outage shut it down earlier in the week. On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to immediately let oil refineries produce winter-blend gasoline. In most areas of the state, that switch isn't allowed until Nov. 1.

So the surge in California gas prices should begin to ease after eye-popping increases have angered motorists and caused some gas stations to close. On Sunday, the statewide average hit a record $4.66 per gallon, according to the AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, a rise of more than 50 cents per gallon in a little over a week. California officials hope gas prices will start heading down in days rather than weeks.

"If this situation continues, it may cause unacceptable price impacts for consumers and small businesses, significant economic disruption, and serious harm to public safety and welfare," California Gov. Jerry Brown wrote in his letter Sunday ordering the immediate switch to winter-blend gasoline. "Allowing refiners to make an early transition to winter-blend gasoline could quickly increase fuel supply."

The governor's move should help, but the speed of the change depends on a number of factors.


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