Rogue Valley gasoline prices pass $3 mark

A sudden spike in gas prices has given motorists and the people who pump gas a new reason to sing the blues.

"My cost has gone up 16 cents in the last week — 13 cents in one day," said Clay Ver Bryck, who operates C&J Super Service Shell on North Pacific Highway in Medford. "I went ballistic last Thursday. There's no refinery shutdown, no anything that explains it."

AAA reports the national average for a gallon of gas climbed 6 cents to $2.82 in the past week, while in Oregon it rose to a $3.00 average from $2.89 in a week. In the Medford-Ashland market, the latest push at the pump has left motorists paying an average of $3.06 per gallon compared to the $2.95 they paid a week ago.

Increasing violence between Iraqi Kurds and Turkish soldiers adds uncertainty to an already troubled supply situation, said Marie Dodds, spokesman for AAA of Oregon.

Oil prices soared to a record $90 per barrel briefly last week, but fell Monday to $87.55. Many analysts believe prices will stay near record highs, driven in part by the weakened value of the dollar in global markets.

Gyrations in the global market aren't necessarily reflected in the price Oregon drivers pay at the pump, Dodds said.

"The Northwest is isolated from other areas, so that can play against our favor, because we're not an oil-producing area," she said.

Ver Bryck said the higher prices he's paying for gas have eaten into his profitability as motorists seek less expensive options.

"From June to present, I'm down about 20,000 gallons a month," he said. "We were at 110,000 gallons a month. It was our stinking price that caused that."

Ver Bryck said as prices rise, it's harder to make ends meet at his station, which is one of a handful of independently owned stations still operating in the Rogue Valley. He said his customers have been fuming since prices crested $2 a gallon.

"Shell did a survey and told us that (consumption) is down 5 percent in the Pacific Northwest, because the prices are so high," Ver Bryck said. "It's ridiculous, because I know people think that I'm ripping them off. The summer months are when we get healthy so we can pay these employees. I know the minimum wage is going up in January and that means payroll taxes, workman's compensation, Social Security and everything is going up too. I need a spread of 30 cents to break even and I'm working on a 15-cent spread now. That savings account that didn't get built up is getting pretty low."

Motorist aren't the only ones who will pay more for fuel, said Dave Mullane, a dispatcher for Hays Oil. The kerosene supply used for a new generation of fuel-injected heating stoves has been hit hard as suppliers scramble to make way for ethanol blends. In addition to three grades of gas, companies storing fuel also handle two grades of diesel, two grades of kerosene and aviation gas, Mullane said. Arco, Chevron, Shell and Texaco all have their own detergent package.

"Kerosene lost out," he said.

While consumption might be down in some quarters, it's hardly noticeable to folk who supply the fuel.

"Companies are pumping as much as they can in three hours out of the pipeline in Eugene," Mullane said. "Everyone wants the cheapest gas they can get for their customers. If they're the cheapest, they'll run out the fastest."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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