Why are gas prices higher in Uinta County?

EVANSTON — Consistently, the average price for gasoline at the pump in Uinta County is between $2.05 and $2.06 and is one of the highest in the state of Wyoming. According to Gasbuddy.com and the AAA gas price index, average price around the state range from $1.55 to $2.30, depending on the county or city where a person is purchasing the gasoline. 

Laramie, Casper and Gillette have the lowest average price of $1.55 to $1.67 per gallon.  According to AAA, the current average price of gasoline for the entire state is now at $1.948, and a month ago it was at $1.884/gallon.

Gasbuddy.com provides a daily accounting of gasoline prices per state and a comparison of average recorded prices from 2008 to the present for each state. Wyoming’s highest average recorded price on July 17, 2008 was $4.114 per gallon, and the lowest recorded price on Dec. 29, 2008 was $1.397 per gallon.

In a recent phone interview with Mark Larson, executive vice president of Co-Wy Petroleum Marketers Association, he told the Herald, “We are in unprecedented times and uncharted waters. We are experiencing demand destruction of 30-50% on fuel islands at convenience stores. Price variations may have to do with long-time supply and storage issues. However, anti-trust laws prohibit me from talking about pricing.”

Larson said one of the gasoline distributors for Uinta County is Cardwell Distributing out of Utah. When the Herald attempted to contact Cardwell Distributing, now under RelaDyne in Midvale, Utah, no calls were returned.

When Ryan McConnaughey, communication director for Petroleum Association of Wyoming was contacted by the Herald, he referred back to Mark Larson or to oil and gas distributors in Utah and chose to make no other comment.

Managers of local convenience stores that sell gasoline told the Herald they are not allowed to discuss pricing matters. 

Corporate headquarters for Pilot and Flying J were contacted. In response, the Herald received an email from Lauren Parrish, account executive with Moxley Carmichael and spokesperson for the Pilot Company. The statement she sent from Pilot Company reads as follows:  “As a private company, Pilot Company does not comment on its pricing philosophy. There are many external factors that impact gas prices at the retail level, and Pilot Company works to stay competitive in the marketplace.”

Tara Righetti, SER Assistant Professor of Law with University of Wyoming Department of Law and School of Energy Resources was contacted by the Herald in late May and asked if she could provide any information as to the price differentiation in Wyoming. Righetti responded via email: “My field is upstream production (drilling, surface use, leasing) so I don’t have any unique perspective on regional gasoline pricing. Refined products (e.g. gasoline) are different than crude oil. I do not know whether this is the case specifically, but it seems likely that the oil produced in Uinta County must be transported somewhere else for refining (usually by pipeline), and then distributed back to retail stations for sale (usually by truck).

Those costs of pipeline transportation, refining and trucking are all added into the final cost of gasoline at the pump. Thus, proximity to upstream crude oil production may not directly impact downstream prices for retail refined product. Sorry not to have more specific insight on this issue.”

Charles “Chuck” Mason, of Petroleum and Natural Gas Economics at the University of Wyoming said that he thought a community’s gas prices were influenced by prices in nearby communities, as the prices shown on Gasbuddy.com in Salt Lake City and Ogden were fairly close to those in Evanston. 

Mason also responded via email on May 31, saying, “The other point I made was that gas prices generally rise faster than they fall; economists call this pattern “rockets and feathers” — prices rise like rockets, and fall like feathers. By my experience that pattern is more noticeable in Wyoming, as gas stations seem particularly unwilling to drop gas prices when crude prices fall (which makes me suspect they base the posted price on the rack rate they paid when they bought the gas they are currently selling). For what it’s worth, I had my students predict gas prices in Laramie and Northern Colorado much of the spring term, and I saw very similar patterns between those two markets over the semester to what I articulated for the link between Salt Lake and Evanston.”

Mason concluded with a statement that there are probably other explanations to some form of price fixing that could explain the patterns noted.

The Herald also contacted Wyoming Rep. Garry Piiparinen to see if he could gain information as to why Uinta County’s gasoline prices are higher than most of the other counties in the state.  Piiparinen attempted to approach several oil companies and received essentially the same responses the Herald had received. 

“I wonder if the lack of transparency and possible price gouging is the story. Is it just a free market or what?” Piiparinen said.


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