Episode 4: At the Pump

​Kiran tries to uncover ​where her gas money went. In 2015, Californians paid billions more for gasoline than the rest of the country. At the same time, oil refiners reported record profits. ​ Slick.

Show your support for gas pricing transparency

The Petroleum Markets Advisory Committee, a committee of the California Energy Commission, just agreed to work on providing more transparency on gasoline prices. They're also exploring possible policy recommendations to address price spikes.

“If you take the media’s normal response, it’s that [high gas prices in California have] to do with the price of crude oil and what’s going on in the Middle East. But in California, it’s actually price manipulation.” —Cody Rosenfield, Consumer Watchdog

The world is full of mysteries: the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster and the price of gas in California.

In 2015, gas prices in California reached a record high. At one point, a gallon of gas cost $5.49 at a downtown Los Angeles Chevron station. Meanwhile, some US cities were paying less than two dollars for a gallon. And the kicker? Oil companies reported record profits in California that year. What was going on?

That’s what Kiran’s trying to find out. On her quest for answers, she talks to Californians at the gas station, a consumer advocate, a gasoline industry insider and the California Energy Commission.

Kiran discovers there are a number of factors shaping the dark and mysterious market that is California gasoline. From deliberately low supply to unrestricted exports to murky pricing, these factors creat a perfect storm that benefits the refiners at the expense of drivers.

Tim Hamilton of the Automotive United Trades Organization has been in the gasoline industry for over forty years. He’s just one of many voices who believe gas prices are being manipulated, especially when oil refiners are making record profits and Californians are paying record prices. He reminds us that, “People think of [gasoline] as a utility. It’s something that’s necessary for their lives yet, in the same token, it’s utilized for the maximum profit potential of those who hold it.”

Tom Steyer and Consumer Watchdog are demanding that the California oil industry be more transparent about its pricing strategy, its inventory and why Californians paid up to a billion dollars more per month than the national average in 2015.

On the bright side, despite immersing herself in the veiled gasoline market, Kiran’s investigation does reveal a new skill: her ability to translate oil company profit jargon.

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