Wires

California gasoline prices hit record amid supply woes

LOS ANGELES, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Gasoline prices in Californiahit record levels on Saturday, after an unprecedented surge inpump prices propelled by a perfect storm of factors that droveinventories in the region down to near-historic lows.

The average cost of a gallon of gas in the state stood at$4.614, edging past the previous record of $4.61 set in 2008,according to figures from AAA.

But prices topped $5 a gallon in some locations. OnSaturday, a local NBC station showed one downtown Los Angelesgas station selling regular grade at $5.49 a gallon.

Average prices in the Golden State were $4.145 a week ago,AAA data show.

The abrupt price spike has shocked California's car-lovingresidents, and left some retailers in Los Angeles scrambling forsupplies. Signs have emerged that the run-up in prices couldsoon end, but motorists may think twice about hitting the roadfor now.

"I think $5 is kind of hitting the limit," driver GenoushTunian told the local CBS station in Los Angeles.

A series of events have conspired to limit supplies, causinggas inventories in the West Coast region to fall this week totheir third-lowest level in 20 years on a seasonal basis,government data shows.

A fire closed Chevron Corp's Richmond, California,refinery during the summer. A Chevron pipeline that carriescrude oil from the state's Central Valley to refineries in theSan Francisco Bay area has also been closed since mid-September.

MOVE TO WINTER BLEND

More recently, Phillips 66 shut two plants toconduct planned maintenance, while a power outage hit ExxonMobil Corp's refinery in the Los Angeles-area city ofTorrance on Monday, disrupting operations for days.

On Friday, Exxon said the Torrance plant had resumedoperations, which helped ease supply fears.

In another complication, California refineries had alreadycut production in anticipation of switching over to a seasonalwinter blend of gasoline next month. Gas stations in Californiaare set on Nov. 1 to begin selling winter-blend gas, whichreleases more smog-causing substances than summer blend.

State officials earlier this week reassured the public thatCalifornia was not running out of gasoline.

Costco had been forced to shut about 14 of its 40 LosAngeles-area stations, but the company's chief financialofficer, Richard Galanti, said later the "situation is startingto improve."

Jeffrey Spring, a spokesman for the Automobile Club ofSouthern California, which is affiliated with AAA, said itremained unclear how prices may change in the coming days.

"A lot depends on whether the perceived supply issues arequickly addressed," he said.

On Thursday, the California Independent Oil MarketersAssociation, which represents wholesale and retail gasolinemarketers, asked the California Air Resources Board, an airquality regulator, to allow the early sale of winter-blendgasoline.

CARB could also permit gasoline from neighboring states thatdoes not meet California's strict emission standards. A CARBspokesman said the board is evaluating the emergency request,but said there is no timetable for a decision.

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by NicholaGroom; Editing by Eric Walsh)

((alex.dobuzinskis@thomsonreuters.com))

Keywords: CALIFORNIA/GASPRICES