New uncertainty overtook California gasoline prices Monday as a sudden jump in oil prices overshadowed reports that some of the state's largest refineries may soon come back online, likely increasing the state's fuel supply.
It was unclear whether the net result will be further price increases or a decline after a month in which pump prices rose by 19 percent.
At least one observer, with the California Energy Commission, said he thinks prices will keep going up.
"I would say a lot of the signs are pointing up as opposed to down," said Ryan Eggers, the agency's supervisor of transportation fuels data.
Oil prices jumped to their highest level in six months after the Trump administration announced it will no longer allow China, India and other countries to violate international sanctions on the purchase of Iranian oil.
A tougher line by the administration on Iranian oil exports would be expected to crimp the international supply of oil. All else staying the same, that would put upward pressure on oil prices and, by extension, California gasoline prices.
Brent crude, the global oil benchmark most Kern County crude prices are pegged to, surged Monday by more than $2 per barrel, or 3 percent.
Refinery trouble, oil imports
Meanwhile, The Automobile Club of Southern California said there was a "light at the end of the tunnel" with regard to the problems that have hobbled six of the state's 10 largest refineries during the last several weeks.
Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring said Monday at least two of the refinery disruptions appear to have been the result of planned maintenance and that some of that work is expected to end soon.
Also, there are reports that tanker shipments of California-blend gasoline is on its way to the Golden State from Europe and could arrive within the next couple of weeks, he said. That would normally have the effect of lowering prices motorists pay at the pump.
"We're not out of it yet," he said, "but it seems like (the refinery fixes), combined with these reported imports coming into the state, seem to be helping to moderate the price of wholesale gasoline."
Recent gas prices
Bakersfield's average price for a gallon of unleaded was up only slightly Monday at $4.008 per gallon, the Auto Club reported. That was about 50 cents more than local motorists were paying a year ago.
Statewide, the average price for unleaded was $4.031. Until the recent run-up in prices, California hadn't seen its average gas price top $4 since July of 2014.
The national average Monday was $2.842, according to the Auto Club.
Spring noted price increases have moderated in recent days.
"It’s not climbing as fast as it was last week and the week before that," he said.
But when will the price come down again? "That's always the big question, isn't it," he said, before adding, "this next week or so could be the peak" before prices turn downward.
Spring said it was still too soon to know how the administration's announcement on Iranian sanctions would affect gas prices.