Gas prices are rising fast in Olympia. Here’s how long it should last

Spring is traditionally the time of year for rising gas prices, but the rise has been quick this year.

Unexpected refinery outages in San Francisco and Los Angeles have put a crimp in an already tight West Coast market, sending prices soaring in the past week, said Dan McTeague, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, an online website that tracks gas prices across the U.S. and Canada.

He expects the average price in Washington state to rise another 10 cents in the coming week. In California, there are places that are already pushing the $4-a-gallon level, he said in an interview.

“We don’t normally see this kind of rise, so buckle your seatbelt,” McTeague said.

The average price for a gallon of gas on April 8 was $3.33 in the Olympia area, according to AAA Washington. That’s 11 cents higher than a week ago and up 37 cents in the past month.

British Columbia drivers have it even worse. McTeague said some gas stations in Vancouver, B.C., are in the $1.65-a-liter range. When you account for the current exchange rate and the conversion to gallons, that’s about U.S. $4.68 a gallon.

British Columbia doesn’t have enough fuel to meet its needs with its current refining capacity, McTeague said, so it has to get fuel from other areas such as Washington state. Washington state refiners also are sending gas to California, meaning even less supply for this area.

Rising demand also traditionally pushes gasoline prices up this time of year. McTeague expects that to happen in Western Washington, with possible decreases coming in summer if consumers get sticker shock and cut back on driving. Any other unexpected events, such as another interruption of refinery operations, could send prices rising even higher.

“It doesn’t take much to get back to $4 a gallon,” McTeague said.

As for regional differences, the West Coast will continue to have the highest gas prices in the U.S. this summer, unless something unexpected affects supply and demand, he said.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.