Monday’s solar eclipse gives a boost to NW gasoline prices

By Troy Brynelson, The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Gas prices have been placid so far this summer in the Northwest, but they look ready to rise ahead of Monday’s solar eclipse.

Prices have risen throughout the region this week and could spike by as much as a dime per gallon in Vancouver, and perhaps hang there until October, according to the latest data from AAA Oregon/Idaho.

Gas in parts of Oregon that are in the path of totality, where a 62-mile belt will be completely dark for two minutes, have already leapt by 20 cents per gallon in the past week.

“It’s very reasonable to expect prices to go up,” said Marie Dodds, a spokeswoman for the auto assistance club. She said that there was no crystal ball, but few products out there are as sensitive to supply and demand as gas prices.

“Now, are they going to skyrocket to $5 a gallon? No,” she said. “But we already have some smaller communities in Oregon, Idaho and Washington where the average is already above $3.”

A million travelers are expected to converge on Oregon, according to transportation officials, and clog the state highways to get to the path of totality. Transportation officials in Idaho likewise project 500,000 travelers.

Gas in Madras, Oregon, jumped, on average, from $2.67 per gallon to $2.87 per gallon in the past week, according to AAA data. Prices in Ontario, Oregon, and Albany, Oregon, rose 8 cents to $2.68 per gallon and $2.58 per gallon, respectively.

Idaho’s state average rose 8 cents in the past week, the highest such jump for a state in the nation.

Prices in Vancouver have risen just 3 cents per gallon so far, but that should rise as more people arrive. Visit Vancouver USA, the tourism organization in Clark County, projects hotels in its membership — combining for about 2,700 rooms — will be 90 percent full Saturday, 100 percent full Sunday and 95 percent full Monday.

It may not seem like a lot if prices jump by a dime per gallon, but a new wave of domestic gas production has kept gas prices steady for most of the summer.

Usually, gas prices bottom out in the winter, then rise as much as 70 cents a gallon when summer travelers hit the road.

Prices are ultimately at the whims of the gas station owners, though.

Dodds said there are no laws setting the price of gasoline, only that gas station owners cannot collude with one another. Where some owners might say they want to offer cheaper gas and entice people to buy food and drinks, others might say they’re going to mark up the prices just because they can.

“There are those that say, ‘I’m next to the freeway, we get a lot of tourists here, I’m going to charge a bit more because people are looking for convenience and they’re willing to pay more,’ ” she said.

And, because Labor Day is approaching, Dodds said she wouldn’t be surprised if those prices lingered.

“Though it doesn’t tend to be as busy as Memorial Day or Fourth of July, it is a popular summer holiday,” she said. “We don’t tend to see gas prices fall off until mid-September when the kids are back in school, even as late as early October.”

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