Though Wallowa County's gas prices are well above the national average of $1.72, they in no way come close to the stories from San Diego, where gas is reputedly selling for up to $2.33 a gallon as of Tuesday.
A quick survey of gas outlets in Wallowa County sees prices for regular unleaded ranging from $1.89 to $2.01 as of March 21.
Cardlock members from the Wallowa County Grain Growers were getting the lowest price locally as of that date, paying $1.89 for each gallon of regular unleaded pumped from cardlock sites in Enterprise and Lostine. Regular Grain Growers pumps available to the public was selling at $1.95 per gallon.
Prices as of the end of last week at the five regular service stations serving the county were $1.98 at Goebel's Texaco in Wallowa, $1.99 at both Paul's Chevron in Joseph and the Mountain Mart Tesoro station in Enterprise, and $2.01 at both the Shop N Go Chevron and Steve's Texaco in Enterprise.
Ben Grote of Mountain Mart Tesoro and Steve Testerman of Steve's Texaco are surprised that customers are taking the recent gas hikes as amicably as they are. Grote notes that prices went up as much as 9 cents overnight, yet people are taking the hikes "pretty well."
According to Marc Burns of Goebel's Texaco, regular unleaded prices have climbed from $1.69 to $1.98 in the past six weeks.
The war in Iraq is considered to be one major factor in the price hikes, plus the oil strike in Venezuela. With the latter coming to an end, some gas suppliers such as Burns think the price hikes may stabilize.
Shop N Go Chevron assistant manager Josh Rynearson is of the opinion that gas prices will be going down in the months ahead, even going as low as $1.55 for a gallon of regular unleaded by the summer months.
Testerman disagrees. After claiming that no one knows the future of gas prices, he suggested that the price per gallon could rise to $2.50 before it levels off.
Grote says the variables of the war could well determine the future of American gas prices. If Saddam Hussein torches off 200 to 300 oil wells, the price will go up, he said. If the war is short there may not be much difference in prices.
Paul Castilleja of Paul's Chevron points out that gas prices in European countries such as Germany, Great Britian and Poland are already three times the price of gas in the United States. He goes on to say that environmental extremists who block the tapping of U.S. natural resources help keep prices as high as they are.
Burns said that until recently big oil companies such as Exxon and Texaco have been giving stations in the La Grande and Elgin area what he calls "kick back money" to compete with the gas station placed in La Grande by Safeway. He suggests that the big oil companies have been selling Union County stations their gas at 14 cents cheaper than the norm to better compete with Safeway.
Safeway prices as of March 20 were $1.91 for regular customers and $1.88 for customers with a Safeway card.
Showing the volatility and uncertainty of the retail gasoline market, gas prices that had been up to $2.01 at the end of last week, had already dropped a couple of cents at the pump as of press time Tuesday.
Wallowa County motorists join those throughout the nation in hoping that gas prices continue to decline, instead of heading back upward.