Gas companies in Hawaii turn over price data

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — The oil industry serving Hawaii must begin revealing key gas pricing information this week to state government officials who will use it to figure out why island prices are often the highest in the nation.

Two dozen oil companies started to file newly required weekly and monthly reports Monday disclosing crude oil costs, wholesale prices, gross margins and other figures with the Public Utilities Commission.

Hawaii had the most expensive gas in the country Monday, with regular unleaded costing an average of $3.24 per gallon, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report. The national average was $2.77 per gallon.

Hawaii prices fluctuate greatly, most often topping the national figures but sometimes averaging slightly lower than California and a few other states.

The oil industry's financial information is being given to the state as required by a law calling for more clarity on what goes into the cost of a gallon of gas. It replaced a law capping wholesale gas prices in the island that was repealed last year.

"It'll be interesting to see what — academically and intellectually — people do with this material," said Alec McBarnet, president of Maui Oil Co., a jobber, or middleman, that buys gasoline from refiners and sells it to service stations. "We've supported transparency because I think it's one way to show there's nothing out there to be embarrassed about."

Lawmakers hope the increased transparency will discourage unfair pricing in Hawaii's market, where the state's isolation, high cost of doing business and steep taxes have been cited as possible reasons for high pump prices.

The law is meant to show whether oil profits in Hawaii are abnormally high.

But state regulators say it will take time to determine whether oil companies are gouging Hawaii customers. The Legislature budgeted $1.2 million for the program this year.

"There might not be a definitive conclusion drawn until we can look at data over a long-term period," said Lisa Kikuta, spokeswoman for the Public Utilities Commission.

The deadline for the first monthly filing was Monday, followed by a Wednesday deadline for companies to file a weekly report for the seven days ended July 1.

The Public Utilities Commission must begin disseminating the data to the public within two weeks after it's filed. The commission hasn't decided how much information it will release. It has said it will keep proprietary competitive information confidential.

Hawaii's two oil refiners, Chevron and Tesoro, have said they will comply with the reporting requirements.

"The PUC is doing a really good job of working with the situation under very complicated circumstances," said Chevron spokesman Albert Chee.

Tesoro spokesman Nathan Hokama said he's concerned that the data could be used to point fingers and place blame.

"Someone could take a look at a particular figure or piece of data and come to a certain conclusion when they may not be taking into account the entire business," he said. "Even if they had all the data that they needed, who would be the arbiter of what is acceptable profitability for the company, whether it's the oil industry or any other industry?"

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