There’s pain aplenty for Oregon’s energy-consuming citizens and businesses – meaning, basically everyone in Oregon – as the West Coast’s gasoline supplies remain uncomfortably tight following a February refinery fire in Washington.

While most of the nation’s motorists experienced little or no pump price shock when they filled their tanks this past holiday weekend – an average nationwide price of $3.63 per gallon for unleaded regular, according to AAA – in California, Washington and Oregon, prices were much higher.

As observed by the Chieftain, if you gassed up in Wallowa County during the weekend, you paid up to $4.35 per gallon for regular, while $3.99 was the most common price in La Grande.

According to various press reports, gas prices have been dropping lately in some states – Michigan and Illinois, for example – but analysts aren’t promising this trend will continue. Regardless, the three West Coast states will be the worst place to fill up this summer in the lower 48 states.

How might this West vs. not-West pricing disparity play out locally? That’s not easy to predict, but there’s ample reason to expect that tourism – an important industry to Wallowa County now – will weather the price spike well. It would probably require an awfully large increase – larger than this motoring season’s run-up – to discourage people from coming here.

As usual, though, it’s the local citizens that will feel most pinched, and mainly in their everyday activities: driving to and from work, making trips between communities, just leading a normal life. And, as in past times of higher-than-normal gas prices, the personal adjustment for most people won’t be limited to their driving plans. They may reduce their motor travel somewhat, but they’ll also cut back in other areas of personal spending, which isn’t particularly good for the local economy.

It’s also usual for people to wonder in a low-supply situation if it could have been avoided. Or, on a more paranoid note, if it was deliberately planned. Apparently with this very mindset, in fact, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio (whose congressional district doesn’t include our part of the state) has issued the call for an investigation that you’d expect from someone, anyone, in the congressional delegation.

“The substantial decline in refinery production over such a short period on the West Coast is suspicious at best and predatory at worst,” wrote DeFazio in a letter to the U.S. Justice Dept. urging that it launch a probe through its Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group. “The current situation brings to mind the content of three internal memos from Mobil, Chevron, and Texaco leaked in the late 1990s that explicitly revealed how the oil and gas industry intentionally reduced domestic refinery capacity to drive up profits,” the letter continued.

“The truth is, oil companies know they can make more money by making less gasoline – even if that comes at the expense of American consumers and small businesses,” DeFazio stated.

It’s possible that DeFazio is merely grandstanding, but he’s certainly welcome to go get ’em anyway. We small-fry consumers, however, shouldn’t be holding our breaths anticipating some fresh and damning revelation that leads to market justice, or even just a little earlier price relief.

We’ve been down this road too many times before.

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