The average price for a gallon of gas in Bellingham is creeping closer to record territory once again, and industry experts are not sure when relief will come.
According to AAA Washington, the average price for a gallon of gas in the city was $4.25 on Thursday, Oct. 11. That's up 3 cents from Wednesday and 9 cents in the past week. The record high for Bellingham is $4.50, set in June 2008.
Bellingham's average price remains highest among major Washington metro areas. The next highest is in Seattle, at $4.15 a gallon. Spokane has the least expensive, at $3.92 a gallon.
Events in California appear to be a big factor for higher prices in Washington state. Along with the Aug. 6 fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., that is keeping that facility closed until the end of the year, on Oct. 1 the Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery in Torrance, Calif., was hit with a power outage. This has led to price speculation in California, and higher prices are making their way up the West Coast to Bellingham, said Tim Hamilton, executive director of a gasoline dealer group called Automotive United Trades Organization.
"We're holding our breath," said Hamilton, when asked whether prices will be dropping anytime soon. "We would expect prices to recede, because we don't think (the price spike) was justified in the first place."
With some California drivers dealing with prices that are well above $5 a gallon, gas could be diverted from other places like Washington state, keeping the supply tight in this area, Hamilton said.
Low inventory is a key factor to the price spikes in recent years, according to Hamilton. With refining at capacity, there is little margin for when something goes wrong.
"A refinery fire is not a new event; we've had refinery fires in the past without the price spikes," Hamilton said. "Oil companies are not keeping extra inventory in case of something like a fire."
In Bellingham, gas prices rose dramatically last spring following the BP Cherry Point fire. By May, the average price for a gallon of gas peaked in the $4.40 range before dropping in the summer months.
Gas prices tend to decline further locally heading into the winter months, but at this point the average price in Bellingham is 35 cents per gallon higher than the same time a year ago.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.