California gas stations low on fuel, high on prices

(CBS News) Many California drivers are running on empty, and the problem could be spreading to other states. Gas prices have jumped all week -- the fastest rise in many years.

And some gas stations don't have any fuel to sell at all. Low supplies are leading to high frustration.

For many Californians, driving is as natural as breathing and gasoline is the motorists' lifeblood. That's why seeing closed stations is more than frustrating -- it's almost unbelievable.

Some of the state's gas stations have been forced to close their pumps, and the ones that are open, are charging prices that can only be described one way -- an arm and a leg. That's why at discount gasoline outlets like Costco, motorists are lining up to fill their tanks.

Analysts say the problem is a sharp decline in supply. Low gasoline inventories have pushed the average price for a gallon of regular up 18 cents this week alone to $4.32. That includes the biggest one-day price-hike in state history of eight cents a gallon.

Marie Montgomery, spokesperson for the motor club AAA, "We have never seen a spike like this. This is brand new territory. We just don't know how quickly they'll get the supplies back on line that we need."

So what's fueling the shortage? Analysts point to disruptions in nearby refineries. Recent fires and power failures in California plants, as well as a pipeline shutdown, were enough to reduce the flow of gasoline, causing the laws of supply and demand to go into overdrive.

Customers are getting sticker shock all over California as some gas stations sport prices more than $5. Though $5-per-gallon gas isn't the norm yet, analysts warn the average price for regular could soon surpass the year's high, topping $4.37 a gallon. Analysts say the uptick is troublesome, but temporary. California's drivers will have reason to give thanks for lower prices by Thanksgiving.

Gas prices have been rising in other states as well due to the fuel shortage. One exception: gas prices in Texas, which fell four cents a gallon last week.

Watch Bill Whitaker's full report in the video above.

  • Bill Whitaker

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