Western lawmakers seek probe of refineries over gas prices
Energy • They say May, October prices may not have been driven by refinery shutdowns.
Published: November 27, 2012 09:32PM
Updated: March 6, 2013 11:34PM
(AP Photo/Reed Saxon) Gas prices hovered near $5 a gallon earlier this year in Los Angeles and other parts of the West Coast, ostensibly in the midst of a web of refinery ptoblems.

Washington • Six Democratic senators representing states along the Pacific Coast asked the Justice Department on Tuesday to investigate the role of oil refineries in gas spikes that occurred in May and October even as crude oil prices were declining.

Gas prices jumped last month in California to more than $5 a gallon and to lesser amounts elsewhere in the West. Analysts said a web of refinery problems were to blame.

But the senators say a review of California refinery emissions data revealed inconsistencies between the time refineries were actually producing petroleum products and when maintenance shutdowns were publicly reported. They said misleading reports of shutdowns could create a perceived shortage of gasoline.

“It is important to note that because the West Coast refinery market is highly concentrated and isolated, inaccurate information about just one refinery being down can impact gasoline prices for tens of millions of consumers,” the senators said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

They said an analysis by McCullough Research indicates that gasoline inventories were either increasing or remaining at historic five-year averages during the highest price spikes. They said records that can be gained only through subpoena can determine whether various refinery companies violated a Federal Trade Commission rule against “false or misleading public announcements of planned pricing or output decisions.”

Violations of the rule subject companies to fines of up to $1 million a day per violation.

A trade group representing some refinery companies along the coast, Western States Petroleum Association, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the senators’ request.

The letter seeking the investigation was sent by Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, all Democrats.

Gas prices in Utah

Tuesday • $3.57

Week ago • $3.64

Month ago • $3.77

Year ago • $3.29

Record high • $4.22 (July 18, 2008)

National averages

Tuesday • $3.42

Week ago • $3.41

Month ago • $3.55

Year ago • $3.30

Record high • $4.11 ( July 17, 2008)

Find low-priced gasoline

O Go to UtahGasPrices.com or SaltLakeGasPrices.com