It's all over the news: Gas prices rocketed up last week in Oregon. They continue to rise this week. All the news outlets are reporting "what," but no one is reporting "why." So I'm asking you guys to find out or to get one of your reporters to find out. Why are our gas prices going up so fast?
— Dean S., Ashland
As of Saturday, average gas prices heading into Memorial Day — the official start to summer — hovered just below $4 a gallon in the Medford-Ashland area, at $3.97. We think it's because we planned to go to the coast this weekend, Dean, but that's just our conspiracy theory tendencies kicking in.
Marie Dodds, director of government and public affairs for AAA Oregon/Idaho, points out prices still aren't as high as last year at this time — $4.26.
She says trying to explain gas prices in a few simple sentences is like trying to explain the stock market.
Myriad factors come into play, from refinery fires in California or Texas to rumors of wars in the Middle East. At the last of the line is little Oregon, who, as Dodds says, "is a gas taker, not a gas maker."
Dodds says the West Coast is pretty tight on fuel supplies to begin with, which automatically makes prices here higher than in other regions of the country that have more localized access to oil.
What's driving up the gas prices this time around likely are maintenance problems with refineries in Washington and California over the past couple of weeks, Dodds says.
Washington, Oregon and California make up one big fuel market, she says. When refineries temporarily shut down in Washington and California, Oregon shares in the pain.
Higher crude prices also put pressure on gas prices across America, she says.
Dodds notes that over the past few nights, gas prices in Oregon have begun to stabilize again and are even dropping, though not by much. Friday's average price in Medford and Ashland, for example, was $3.98, 1 cent more expensive than Saturday's. And a week ago, the average had hit the $4 mark.
Dodds goes into more detailed explanations in her "What's up with Gas" reports on the AAA website (found at www.oregon.aaa.com/resources/gas-articles.aspx).
One thing we can rejoice in, Dean — gas is still cheaper than the all-time record, which was $4.379 on July 11, 2008.
Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to email@example.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.