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.

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game