Watchdog Group Calls For Probe Into Jump In Gas Prices After Torrance Refinery Blast

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Southland consumer advocacy group called for an investigation Friday into alleged price manipulation at the pump after a sharp jump in local gas prices following an explosion at a Torrance refinery.

Spot gas prices in Los Angeles have risen 25 cents per gallon since Tuesday’s blast and ensuing fire at the ExxonMobil refinery, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

In response, ExxonMobil shut down the refinery. Paired with the closure of Tesoro’s now-shuttered Martinez, Calif., facility, nearly 17 percent of all refinery capacity statewide is affected, according to Consumer Watchdog’s Jamie Court.

In a letter (PDF) dated Feb. 18 addressed to Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials, Consumer Watchdog consumer advocates Liza Tucker and Cody Rosenfield called for “immediate inspections” of the two shuttered plants and an “investigation of possible price manipulation” in the wholesale market.

The letter noted the timing of the shutdowns coinciding with a nationwide steelworkers’ strike and “striking” parallels between the California energy crisis of the early 2000s and the current gas industry shutdown.

“On-site inspectors could have uncovered the manipulation then, and very well could uncover the same now,” the letter stated.

While California gas prices have jumped 27 cents since the Tesoro plant was shutdown on Feb. 6, the U.S. average has only risen by about 10 cents per gallon, according to Consumer Watchdog.

There was no immediate response by state officials to the letter.

The cause of the ExxonMobil refinery explosion is currently under investigation.

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