Fill 'er up?
WOODBURN — Few topics in Woodburn have elicited a more heated response on social media than local gas prices.
Two posts on the Facebook page WoodburnOregonCommunityPost have each drawn scores of comments, most delivering a timbre of outrage. One post by Mitch McBane shows a May 3 receipt from the local ARCO station where a customer was charged $3.98 per gallon.
With a temporarily shrinking demand, ignited at least in part by stay-at-home orders, motorists have observed plummeting prices with many stations in Salem and other areas dropping well below $2 per gallon. Those fallen prices cast a spotlight on how much higher prices are in Woodburn.
In a call Friday, May 8, call to Woodburn's ARCO AM-PM, an attendant said a gallon of regular gas $3.98. A website that monitors gas prices nationwide, "gasbuddy.com," noted prices at other Woodburn stations were Chevron $2.69; Shell on Arney Road and Newberg Highway $2.59; Shell on Pacific Highway $2.79; Safeway $2.69.
So on average, a gallon of gas in Woodburn on that day cost about $2.95.
By comparison, the Pilot station on Brooklake Road exit in Brooks was listed at $1.89, while the Brooks Chevron clocked in at $1.99; an ARCO station at 4433 Lancaster Drive NE, Salem, $1.79; 76 station at 4592 NE Portland Road, Salem $1.87; Mobile at 6160 River Road, Keizer, $1.95.
In Aurora, Flying J truck stop tagged $1.99 as did TA Travel Center, while Shell was $2.19 and 76 $2.99.
"The economics of supply and demand for crude oil has the most significant influence on fuel pricing," Western States Petroleum Association Vice President of Strategic Communications Kevin Slagle said. "Additionally, state and local taxes and regulatory fees can add significantly to cost at the pump; delivery and marketing are additional factors."
An ODOT listing of total gas taxes issued in municipalities indicates that Woodburn's is among the lowest — a total of 55.4 cents per gallon compared to Canby 57.4 cents, Portland 64.4 cents, Milwaukie 56.4 cents, Tigard 57.5 cents, Silverton 56.4 cents, among nearby cities.
So why does a gallon cost significantly more in Woodburn than in nearby communities?
"That's a great question," Slagle mused. "I unfortunately do not have that data to give you a very helpful answer. From what I have observed, the costs differences in these circumstances are often related to local market issues related to fuel contracts, marketing and transportation. It could be that stations even that close are supplied by different marketers, for example."
Just as COVID-19 concerns have sparked state agencies to warn about price gouging for some items, such as personal sanitation products, the gas-price discrepancy in Woodburn has prompted some consumers to do the same, only in this instance, it's a product that has generally seen a price decrease this spring.
"Yes, we have received 15 complaints about price gouging (in Woodburn). We have received complaints in the past about signage at the (ARCO) station. We are looking into it," said Kristina Edmunson, communications director for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon Department of Justice. "There is never a specific timetable for our investigations. It can really depend on the circumstances."
Edmunson said the 15 complaints have all been registered since March 15, and some of them mention a banner that wraps around the ARCO sign; customers see the banner but not the $3.98 per-gallon price.
A May 5 weekly report issued by AAA of Oregon and Idaho noted that most states, including Oregon, continue to see pump prices fall, but 10 states are seeing prices jump, and that sent the national average a bit higher. For the week, the national average for regular adds two cents to $1.79 a gallon. The Oregon average loses four cents to $2.38.
It added that the national average is at its lowest price since March 2016 and the Oregon average is at its lowest price since May 2016.
"As some states ease stay-at-home restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus and re-open some businesses, gasoline demand is increasing, which puts upward pressure on pump prices," said Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. "AAA expects prices will continue to fluctuate across the country in the coming weeks as people begin driving more."
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