Sunday, March 16, 2008

CA Gas Prices: Worse Than You Think

Just in case you hadn't heard, California has some of the highest petrol prices in the country. Partly, this is because that's what the market will bear, but largely it's because the formulation of gasoline in this state is different from that found anywhere else in the USA. This means that refineries in the state have to produce almost all of the local demand and gas can't be brought in from other locations in order to smooth supply vs. demand cycles. Nope, makes no sense to me either.

Quite how the California legislature ever thought it sensible to get into the petrochemical specification business (sometime in the 60s?) is a mystery to me. Indeed, it's a mystery to many people, especially as one of the things they insisted upon was that petrol sold in the state should have a specific oxygenator (MTBE) added that subsequently turned out not only to be a carcinogen but also to actually lower fuel consumption, which was a problem because that completely wiped out all of notional smog benefit it may have originally offered.

Anyway, this week I also figured out that we getting the middle finger in one other dimension too: octane rating. Back east, premium petrol (the top grade) comes in at a middling 93 octane, a level itself quite some way below what's standard in the UK, for example. However, premium gas in California only makes it to a measly 91 octane.

A couple of octane may mean slightly less power and the engine running a bit hotter, but having never done experiments on any of my cars to see the difference first hand I can't really say how significant this difference may or may not be. Either way, we don't even get offered that choice, or at least I thought that was the case until this week I found a gas station in CA that was selling 93 octane, albeit at a whopping $5 a gallon, which is a dollar-thirty more than they were charging for 91 rated "standard" premium juice. Nope, guess I won't be running those experiments just yet because that's a complete rip off. Save your money for a tank or two of racing gas (100+ octane) next time you are at the track is my advice. Now that's the good stuff!

So let's recap: we pay more than anywhere else, we get a lower octane fuel than is the norm in other states, and our state legislature insists on making up it's own formulation with who-know-what consequences.

Hard to view all of this as a victory for the California consumer ...


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