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News / Business / Clark County Business

New explanation emerges for increase in Washington fuel prices

AAA cites routine maintenance on Olympic pipeline

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 28, 2023, 6:08am

A new explanation has emerged for Washington’s gas prices, which are some of the highest in the nation.

In a recent Seattle Times article, experts attributed rising fuel prices to Washington’s climate initiatives. However, AAA states scheduled maintenance on the Olympic pipeline has led to the increase in Oregon and Washington fuel prices.

BP’s Olympic pipeline stretches 299 miles from Blaine to Portland, carrying fuel refined at Cherry Point near Blaine. Processing around 230,000 barrels of crude oil a day, Cherry Point is the largest refinery in Washington, according to Matrix Service.

Frequent routine maintenance on a pipeline of this caliber means a surge in fuel prices.

According to AAA, Washington currently has the most expensive gas in the country at $4.99 a gallon. Oregon has the fourth-most expensive gas at $4.64 a gallon. Last week, gas averaged $4.89 a gallon in Clark County, according to The Seattle Times.

In a statement sent to The Columbian, AAA spokeswoman Marie Dodds stated the national gas price average has fluctuated since May.

“While the national average has remained between $3.52 and $3.60 since the start of May, many states including Oregon have seen some large swings in prices during this time,” Dodds said. “This week, pump prices are up in 22 states, including Oregon, while prices have fallen in 28 states.”

Crude oil, the main ingredient found in gasoline and diesel, remains just below $75 a barrel. As crude oil prices on the global market shift, such changes directly impact the price we pay at the pump.

“On average, about 56 percent of what we pay for in a gallon of gasoline is for the price of crude oil, 20 percent is refining, 11 percent distribution and marketing and 14 percent are taxes,” AAA said in a news release.

Businesses and agencies that utilize truck fleets, such as Clark Public Utilities, are affected by this increase as well.

Although pump prices remain near $5, Clark Public Utilities has adopted efficient models to alleviate the stress of inconsistent fuel prices.

Public Information Officer Dameon Pesanti said an efficient budgeting model and cautious principles allow Clark Public Utilities to adequately prepare for unanticipated fuel costs.

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“We all operate on this very cautious budgeting principle that enables us to explore unanticipated expenses, such as these fluctuating prices without any impact to our services or offerings,” Pesanti said.

“For 2023 we have just over $580,000 per month budgeted for petroleum products. We have not been surpassing the budget this year,” Pesanti said. “That type of preparation is what enables us to respond to the spikes and falls without any impact to our service or operations.”

As we approach the holiday on Tuesday, AAA anticipates 51 million Americans will travel, a 4.3 percent spike from last year.

Editor’s note: The location of BP’s Cherry Point Refinery was misstated in an earlier version of this story. The story has been edited to reflect the accurate information.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.