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Local fuel prices climb in wake of deadly hurricane

Experts say prices may go higher

For the first time locally, the price for gasoline has climbed over $3 per gallon, and it's likely it will continue going higher for a while.

On Thursday afternoon, the price listed at the Hunsaker Oil/Tesoro station on State Route 14 in Bingen reflected the changes, with prices ranging from a low of $2.97 per gallon for regular to $3.17 for a gallon of premium and $3.19 for a gallon of diesel. By Friday, the station's prices had already jumped to $3.07 for regular, $3.27 for premium, and $3.31 for diesel.

Right across the street at Guler Oil, the prices were roughly the same.

But experts all agree -- motorists should brace for costs to continue to go up.

Kathy Hunsaker said she hasn't had time to figure out how much the price has gone up over the past few days.

"It's gone up big time, too much, we just get daily price changes," she said.

Although the gas station's reader board reflects prices over $3 per gallon, Hunsaker said costs have already gone beyond that.

"That's probably yesterday's price," she explained. "It has gone up again today, and there is no end in sight."

Hunsaker said many motorists were trying to fill their tanks now in a bid to avoid even higher prices to come.

"There are quite a few pulling in to our card-lock station, but it's a liquid product and you can only store so much," she said.

Norm Guler, owner of Guler Oil in Bingen, said fuel prices have been going up significantly.

"Costs have gone up 39 cents a gallon in the past week," Guler said on Thursday. "That's my cost to get the fuel, not what we're charging. We've been absorbing some of it, but we can't do that forever."

Guler added that the prices for fuel have been bumping higher several times a day.

"It's been changing two or three times a day. It went up another nickel a gallon just today (Sept. 1)," Guler explained. "It's ugly."

Guler Oil obtains its fuel from several different suppliers in Portland, and so far has not seen any shortages.

"We've always been able to get fuel, but that's always subject to change," Guler said. "We've been really busy today. People are filling up before the price gets higher. The last two days have been busier than any time in the past two months."

Guler said he questions the steepness of the price hikes.

"Sure there is a shortage of fuel because of what's going on, but is raising the price going to make more fuel? I don't think so," he commented. "It's really frustrating. If they want to ration it, OK, but instead they just keep raising the price until no one can afford it, and big oil is pocketing all the money. Talk about looting."

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said the state has little power to regulate gasoline prices.

"The state has no authority to stop companies from charging higher gasoline rates unless there is a violation of anti-trust or consumer protection laws," McKenna explained.

However, he pledged that his office would closely watch the gas market and take action against any company that engages in illegal business practices.

"We don't know yet how Washington will be affected by Hurricane Katrina, but drivers here could be hit with higher prices despite the fact that we receive our petroleum from refineries outside the Gulf of Mexico," McKenna added. "But the economic forces of supply and demand apply to gasoline just as they do other products and services."

McKenna advised motorists to conserve fuel.

"Consumers and businesses need to show restraint," he said. "Rushing to the station to fill up actually increases demand and can create the anticipation of a shortage, which, in turn, can further spike prices."

Washington, which gets most of its crude oil and natural gas from Alaska, has five refineries that supply western Washington and portions of Oregon.

Guler wondered where the increases would stop.

"I can't see $4 a gallon, but I wouldn't have thought it would get this high," he said.


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