Gas prices inching up at the pumps

Santa may have reigned at the gas pump for a while, but it looks like the Scrooge is back with rising fuel prices for motorists.

The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in Santa Rosa inched up 4 cents over the past week, to just under $3.52, according to the American Automobile Association.

The increase, which reverses a two-month decline in pump prices, was as high as 16 cents for one gas station in town over the past week, and two local station owners on Friday reported raising their prices 4 to 7 cents in the last three days.

Some wary consumers said they had noticed the uptick.

Dina Romo, 36, of Windsor, was filing up her car with supreme gasoline Friday from a Santa Rosa Chevron station that was 12 cents more expensive than the same octane fuel she bought at a different station on Sunday.

"Christmas is over and now it's going to start going up again," she said.

Industry officials attributed the increase to a recent uptick in the wholesale cost of gas, driven primarily by climbing crude oil prices.

Crude oil prices had been as low as $85 a barrel in late November and early December, triggering the steady drop in retail gas prices from October's record highs. That's when crude oil hit $147 a barrel and a gallon of regular gas averaged $4.65 in Santa Rosa.

By last week, the average pump price was down to $3.48 in town. But with crude oil now up to just under $91 a barrel, and wholesale gas prices rising as a result, retail prices have begun their rebound, petroleum officials said.

"The big decreases we've seen are coming to a grinding halt," said Steve White, vice president and chief financial officer of San Jose-based Robinson Oil Corp., which owns the Rotten Robbie gas stations.

One of those stations, on Todd Road in Santa Rosa, saw pump prices climb 16 cents over the past week, to $3.59 Friday.

Most North Bay stations were still offering regular gas for under the regional average, according to the website Gasbuddy.com, which posts prices reported by motorists.

Across California, the average cost of a gallon of regular gas was just under $3.54, about 2 cents higher than last week, according to AAA figures.

The pattern has not changed any projections for the coming year, when federal Energy Information Administration expects a national average price of $3.43 for a gallon of regular, down from $3.63 this year. The national average stood at $3.26 on Thursday.

Unlike the spike pump prices in October, which many experts attributed to the Richmond refinery fire and other West Coast production hiccups, White was unable to identify any specific cause for the latest price rebound.

"There's been no sizeable market disruption," he said. "I think it's just normal market dynamics. The wholesale price just got a little more expensive."

Some consumers said they hadn't noticed.

"I was enjoying the downturn on prices," said John Barry, 56, who was filling up at the Chevron station on Bennett Valley and E Street in Santa Rosa. "I thought it was continuing to go down."

Others said they were dismayed that pump prices may again be on an upward swing.

"Not a good sign," said Tyler Turkle, 65, who was filling up his Honda minivan at Keith & Don's Union 76 station on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa.

"The frustrating part is none of us know how it works," he said about fuel pricing. "If there was more to understand, it would be easier to accept."

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)