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Gas Prices Soar Across Central Coast; Is There Relief in Sight?

Some experts are hopeful costs will plateau in the next week, then possibly decline

Gas prices throughout the Central Coast and the state have risen by more than 10 cents per gallon in the past week, but some experts are hopeful the steady increase will level off within the next week or so.

Drivers have seen regular retail gasoline prices jump to an average of $4.38 per gallon on the South Coast, according to GasBuddy.com data.

As of Thursday, Santa Barbara’s average price topped even that of Los Angeles, which averaged $4.31 per gallon, according to the site. The average price across California was $4.20 per gallon, eclipsing a national average of $3.72.

A driver’s best deal Thursday was in Santa Maria, where a gallon sold for $4.03 at ARCO at 1611 S. Blosser Road.

Lowest prices elsewhere included $4.19 per gallon at USA Gasoline at 8 S. Milpas St. in Santa Barbara, $4.19 at Valero at 5661 Calle Real in Goleta, $4.09 at the 76 at 719 W. Laurel Ave. in Lompoc and $4.17 at Tom’s Gas & Market at 230 E. CA-246 in Buellton.

While experts say they aren’t sure when gas prices will drop back below $4 a gallon — something the South Coast hasn’t seen since January — they are hopeful prices will stabilize in the next week.

Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, said the price per gallon should stop rising within seven days and then decrease at an unknown rate within the next two weeks.

He said California oil refineries operating at partial rates of capacity for maintenance and switching from winter to summer gas are partly responsible for the uptick, as well as increased speculation in the oil market.

“Things may start to cool in the next three to five days,” DeHaan said. “Prices should start to slow down in the next week. I have a feeling that prices will go back down.”

Prices don’t appear to be scaring residents away from the gas pump.

“I haven’t seen a reduction in volume,” said John Price, who is affiliated with 11 gas stations in Goleta, Santa Barbara and Montecito. “Usually you get a little bit reduction. I know prices are skyrocketing. It happens every year.”

Price told Noozhawk this week that gas retailer profits are taking a hit because of the price jump, which is about 20 cents higher than this time last year.

He said he wasn’t as hopeful that customers will see relief at the pump so soon — possibly not until April.

“It’s really getting to be a tough economy,” Price said. “People need to drive. I just think it’s supply and demand. That is a long time to wait.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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