California petrol 'crisis' lets Romney stay on the offensive

Rising prices play to challenger's claim that fuel costs have doubled under Obama

Los Angeles

The cost of refuelling pickup trucks, SUVs and other all-American forms of transport threatens to become the latest election talking point after petrol prices hit a record high in California, home of the nation's busiest freeway system.

A gallon of regular fuel cost an average of $4.61 (equivalent to 76p a litre) across the state yesterday, surpassing a record set in 2008. Analysts say it could hit the symbolic $5 barrier in the coming days, and there are reports that panic buying has caused some service stations to run dry.

The price surge comes amid speculation by oil traders responding to hiccups in the local supply chain. A power cut at a major oil refinery in Orange County last week added to the burden of ongoing fallout from an August fire at a second important refinery in Northern California.

"This is so depressing!" one motorist was quoted as saying on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Another declared: "I don't know why this is happening!" An analyst told the Associated Press that the steep rise in prices reflected a "perfect storm" of circumstances.

California's spiralling prices are not mirrored across the US: national average pump prices ticked down at the weekend to $3.76. But California's surge has been widely (and apocalyptically) covered by cable news outlets, partly because it speaks to one of Mitt Romney's campaign talking points.

The Republican candidate has frequently observed that US petrol prices have "doubled" under President Barack Obama, taking money from the pockets of middle-income families. He repeated the claim during last Wednesday's presidential debate, which he was widely considered to have won.

Fact-checkers describe Mr Romney's contention as true but misleading. In 2008, the year before Mr Obama took office, oil prices were highly volatile, oscillating between roughly $30 and $140 a barrel. As a result, the price of petrol also fluctuated wildly. For much of the year the national average was above $4 a gallon, hitting a then-record $4.11 in July. But the financial crisis caused it to fall dramatically, and by the end of the year it had touched $1.61.

After Mr Obama was sworn in, national pump prices returned to their historic parameters, which remain below the highs of 2008 but are also double the year end's lowest figure, allowing Mr Romney to make his claim.

But context matters little in an election campaign, and according to Mr Romney's narrative, Mr Obama has burdened motorists by introducing unnecessary environmental regulations and failing to approve important oil exploration and infrastructure projects.

It is a theme that speaks powerfully to middle-income Americans. Although the US has cheaper petrol, and lower fuel taxes, than almost every Western nation (motorists pay on average just 30 cents of duty per gallon) it also has some of the world's longest commuting distances and least efficient fleets of vehicles.

The continuing coverage of California's petrol "crisis" will help Mr Romney maintain his agenda in advance of Wednesday's vice-presidential debate between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden. It may also protect his recent bounce in the polls which averages 2 to 3 percentage points but still leaves him slightly behind Mr Obama.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
music
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"