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High gas prices driven by simple economics, SDSU prof says

"It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous," Jovanim Martinez said as he filled up his car at the Sunbow Chevron gas station in Chula Vista.

The price for regular unleaded gasoline was $4.89 on Thursday. It cost $86.12 to fill up his car, and that will only last him for three days, he said.

Across the county, the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline was $4.648, just 7.7 cents from the record high of $4.725 set on Oct. 8, 2012.


With gasoline prices going higher each day, President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the oil companies are spiking prices.

Jovanim Martinez fueling up his car in Chula Vista, Nov. 18, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen / KPBS
Jovanim Martinez fueling up his car in Chula Vista, Nov. 18, 2021.

This is not the first time a politician feeling the heat from voters launched an investigation into the oil companies, but nothing has ever come from those investigations. And San Diego State economics professor Joe Silverman doesn't think anything will from this one either.

"I think it's fair to say that Joe Biden is a politician. That's what he's been doing for the past 45 years. Politicians live by the polls. His poll numbers have declined precipitously in the last few weeks," he said. "So what could have led to such a big drop in his poll ratings? Well, gasoline prices are going up, and everybody feels the effect."

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked then-Atty. General Xavier Becerra to investigate whether oil companies were colluding to drive up oil prices in California. To date, nothing has come from that investigation.

“I don't think it's going to be any different now," Silverman said. "To show collusion, you'd have to show that people from different oil companies have gotten together and fixed the price. And I don't think that what you're seeing in the market now can only be explained by collusion.”


There are several factors that are driving up prices, but chief among them is simple economics: supply and demand. Oil production has not bounced back to pre-pandemic levels but people are driving more now, he said.

Add to that the nationwide shortage of truck drivers, and supply can't keep up with demand.

Prices are expected to remain high as more people are planning to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday. According to AAA, an estimated 53.4 million people will travel for Thanksgiving — a 13% increase from 2020. That number is 5% off the pre-pandemic levels.

For Martinez, the high gas prices just mean he has to cut back elsewhere.

"The only thing it does is it takes away from things you may want to do with your children," he said. "Such as extracurriculars."