Editor's Note: What’s in your gas tank?

By Richard Wiens, The Triplicate February 21, 2012 08:28 pm

The Los Angeles Times on Friday printed a story lamenting the arrival of $4 per gallon gasoline in the Southland.

Welcome to Del Norte’s world. Up here in the Northland, regular was selling for $4.19 at brand-name stations in Crescent City on Monday — one was actually asking $4.29.

The Times story was based on those daily AAA surveys, which have lately been giving the North Coast a dubious distinction: home of the most expensive gasoline in the continental United States.

Eureka is the closest city surveyed, but since Del Norte’s fuel is typically the same price — sometimes slightly higher — you get the idea.

So maybe the results of the Triplicate’s latest online poll aren’t that surprising. As of Monday, 342 respondents (70.8 percent) said they live in Del Norte but buy their gas in Oregon, while 141 (29.2 percent) said they stay in their home county to fuel up.

Obviously the buy-local sentiment doesn’t seem to apply here. Then again, Brookings is only 26 miles from Crescent City, so maybe when it comes to gas we’re all willing to broaden our definition of “local.”

Pump prices everywhere gyrate with the shifting global economics, and the latest surge may be due more to what’s up in Iran than on Highway 101.

Still, a certain amount of mystery surrounds the high prices on the North Coast. Distributors will tell you it’s more expensive to get the product to our remote location (gotta fuel up those fuel trucks, and diesel ain’t cheap either).

We also lack the level of competition that can drive prices lower. Last month the Triplicate did its own survey, checking prices along 101 throughout Del Norte and Humboldt. Almost every brand-name station advertised the same per-gallon cost for regular, and every off-brand station seemed to be knocking exactly 3 cents per gallon off that price.

Obviously, they all look around at the “competition” and price accordingly. Meanwhile, Del Norters likely look around at their fellow Californians while gassing up in Brookings.

If you’re running on empty and you’ve got the time to spare, the trip north for significantly cheaper fuel (and, let’s face it, perhaps other stops in a state with no sales tax) is obviously worth the expense.

Taxes and environmental standards only seem to explain part of the disparity. While the Golden State levies an average of 67 cents per gallon in taxes, Oregon levies 49.5 cents. And fuel sold here has to meet stricter environmental standards than across the border — the only exception being gas sold at California tribal stations. Still, when the Triplicate checked last month, one tribal station in Del Norte was selling gas for just 6 cents per gallon less than the brand-name non-tribal stations.

So if the tax disparity is 17.5 cents per gallon, and the environmental standards tack on just 6 more cents per gallon, why was brand-name gas in Brookings 55 cents per gallon cheaper than in Del Norte or Humboldt at the time of the Triplicate’s survey?

That’s a question to ponder at the pump, whatever side of the state line you’re on.