One thing visitors and newcomers to Wallowa County notice is that it costs more to fill your car with gasoline here. Gas station owners attribute this largely to the county’s remote location and extra charge they pay for fuel delivery.
“Being last station in line we do get charged a lot for delivery,” said William Castilleja, who is a partner with his father, Paul Castilleja in Paul’s Chevron at Joseph. “Typically, we are 30 cents more than in Elgin or La Grande so I think that’s right about par.”
William Castilleja said his father told him that during the 1980s, Paul was looking into purchasing the Enterprise Chevron and discovered there was an additional 6 cents per gallon charged just to go the extra six miles to Joseph.
David Burns, manager of the Enterprise Chevron, said the county is considered more than just rural — it’s “frontier Oregon” — and it also has to do with the amount of fuel sold.
“If this town was 50% bigger, we’d sell cheaper,” Burns said. ”I don’t think we’re gouging. I know the financial aspects of this business and I’m not going to reveal that, but we’re not gouging.”
He said fuel prices here can’t be legitimately compared to the Willamette Valley, where the state’s low prices of $1.79 a gallon were recorded Tuesday, May 19, by GasBuddy.com.
“It’s not apples to apples to compare us with the valley,” he said.
GasBuddy.com listed the 10 cheapest places to get gasoline in Oregon and none were in the eastern part of the state.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) listed the statewide average at $2.39 a gallon, with the national average at $1.89 a gallon.
Garrett Mahon, owner of Goebel’s LLC in Wallowa, said he’s selling fuel for the $2.39 statewide average.
“That’s usually where I average,” he said.
However, he’s a dime or more a gallon up from La Grande, which is 46 miles away.
Unlike the two Chevrons and the Enterprise Texaco, Mahon isn’t limited to a particular supplier.
“I go with whoever’s cheapest,” he said. He added that he has to get his ethanol-free premium from Washington, since it’s illegal to purchase in Oregon. He’s able to sell it for $3.50 a gallon.
He agreed that his station’s remote location contributes to the cost of fuel.
Taxes also contribute to the cost, but that applies statewide.
“That is one reason Oregon’s prices — like California’s — are higher than the national average,” William Castilleja said. He said that part of the reason for having higher prices here is simply financial.
“Businesses have to make money,” he said. “If we put the price down, we’ll have no fuel in Enterprise, and people would have to drive 65 miles to get fuel.”
The onset of the summer tourist season can be expected to boost the price of fuel.
“I imagine prices up over summer, especially as we move into Phase 3 (of COVID-19 reopening) with more people traveling and supply and demand cause it,” William Castilleja said.
But Mahon said it’s more likely the per-barrel price of crude oil.
“The most recent raise is because the barrel price is going up,” he said.
Oilprice.com reported May 19 crude was selling in the mid-$30s a barrel. However, in April crude prices dropped below $20 per barrel. But the price of crude doesn’t always directly reflect local gas prices. The Chieftain reported that in June 2008, crude spiked to a price of around $160 a barrel. Gasoline prices were in the $4 a gallon range then.
In June 2018, the Chieftain reported crude was selling for $68 a barrel while Wallowa County prices were around $4.50 a gallon.
Burns said it’s mostly about supply and demand — as well as the weather.
“The price of fuel reflects the temperature,” he said. “When there’s good weather, people travel.”