RICHMOND (KCBS) – California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling for a federal investigation into gasoline price spikes that followed the fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond earlier this month. The call comes as investigations focus on the type of crude oil used at the site.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the Federal Trade Commission, Feinstein said the Aug. 6 blaze that damaged the state’s third largest refinery did not affect gasoline supplies as some analysts forecast, yet prices still rose dramatically.

Feinstein said the price of gas in the state reached a high of $4.21, more than double the increase seen in average cost of a gallon of gas in the continental U.S.

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The senator said the spikes “appear to be unjustified by supply and demand fundamentals.”

Meanwhile, scientist Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment said Chevron has been increasing its sulfur content in its crude slate. Sulfur is said to be corrosive to refinery equipment.

KCBS’ Dave Padilla Reports:

Karras said that replacing the pipe that ignited on August 6 should be done with careful deliberation.

“Everybody knows that we don’t want to build it wrong, with the wrong materials and have it break again,” he said. “If the crude quality is a factor, we need to know about that.”

Federal investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it could take anywhere from one year to 18 months to complete a final report. Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said efforts will be made to improve safety before then.

“We have an interest in the community warning system and how that worked and we want to make sure that that gets evaluated,” said Lindsay. “There will be other reportable findings along the way as well.”

A leaky pipe in a crude oil processing unit was said to be a factor in the fire and subsequent release of thick, black, toxic smoke. A Chevron spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing and it’s too early to speculate on anything.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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