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California living really a gas

When you hit the local gas pumps and see the price bouncing between $3.47 and $3.50 or so a gallon (at least that's what they were running Friday evening), you can be thankful for one thing.

You don't live in California.

On Friday, the cost of a gallon of gas in the Golden State seemed to be approaching the price of actual gold with prices in the $4.50-$4.65 range in many places and some hitting $5, even $6, a gallon, according to reports.

While the rest of the nation was averaging about $3.79 a gallon Friday -- a record for this time of year -- California was looking at eclipsing its summer 2008 high water (er, gas) mark of a whopping $4.61. Some are predicting the average in the state will hit as high as $4.85.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the skyrocketing pump prices were caused by a combination of things: refinery and transmission problems combined with a pollution law that requires a special blend of cleaner-burning gasoline from April to October.

State officials say they are expecting prices to decline some this week, but with gas inventories at a 10-year low oil marketers are asking environmental officials in California to let them start selling the winter blend gas formula before Halloween. Few refineries outside California manufacture the summer-grade fuel the state requires, so there aren't many options.

In any event, officials expect long lines at the pumps this week. Some stations are shutting down when they run out of fuel, waiting for the financial storm to pass. Otherwise, they'll have tanks full of overpriced fuel when prices do decline.

Halloween's still weeks away, but for California drivers, it's already pretty darn scary.