Gas prices on the decline everywhere…except here

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Is anything more mysterious, more mind-bendingly unpredictable as gas prices? They’re usually all over the place, subject to every whim blowing in the wind—from OPEC announcements, day-trader bumps, hurricanes in the Gulf, and anticipated travel demand, to something as simple as the station down the street just went up a penny so we will too.

Buckrail received a request from a reader asking us to look into the latest price at the pump in Teton County, and what might be going on.

Statewide gas prices by county. (GasBuddy.com)

First, the good news. Wyoming has some of the cheapest fuel prices in the country, and they have been falling in the past two weeks. Bad news? Not so much in Teton County.

More good news can be found just comparing this fall’s average price at the pump with previous years. In 2012, Wyomingites were paying an average of $3.71 a gallon in September. Prices were as low as $2.20 a gallon same time last year. Currently, that number is looking more like $2.49.

And prices are trending down. Average gasoline prices in the Cowboy State have fallen 2.7 cents per gallon in the past week, according to GasBuddy’s up-to-the-minute survey of 494 outlets in Wyoming.

Nationally, prices are coming down as well as refineries in the Gulf come back online after Hurricane Harvey blew through that region two weeks ago. The wind down of the summer travel season appears to be countering any uptick in global crude oil prices pricing over the past month or so.

As a result, the national average has fallen 5.5 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.55/gallon, compared to Wyoming’s $2.49, according to today’s realtime average from GasBuddy.com.

Gas prices around Jackson Hole. (MapQuest)

So why has Teton County remained at $2.83 a gallon on average? That’s nearly 40 cents above the state average. Most stations in the Jackson area advertising $2.79/gallon, by the way.

The reason is probably more complex than our two-fold answer but after speaking with two fueling station managers, locally—neither of whom wanted to be named, personally, or have their station identified—Buckrail will put the blame on location and weather.

Situated in mountainous terrain far from an interstate, Teton County prices tend to be higher for nearly everything from groceries to gasoline. While it may be tempting to blame fuel prices on the high cost of living we’ve all learned to deal with and bitch about, there is something substantive about trucking fuel all the way here as compared to, say, Laramie County ($2.40/gallon) or Carbon County ($2.42/gallon)—both situated on heavily trafficked I-80.

Transportation costs matter (just look at the west coast), and any region far from pipeline infrastructure in the Gulf coast region will pay more, typically.

Competition also helps. There are not a ton of service stations in the valley but there are enough, with differing suppliers, that it’s difficult for one or two to stay rogue for long with independent pricing. Sooner or later, they keep each other in line as evidenced by the current situation—nearly every gas station in and around town is at $2.79, with only the usual gougers up north at the tourist trap approach to town, charging ten cents more.

Fuel prices in Teton County are also somewhat influenced by heating oil prices, historically. Diesel, especially, which needs less refining than gasoline, is often tied to seasonality with the spike in heating oil demands in a cold region such as ours.

So why haven’t prices in Teton County followed suit with national and statewide declines in the past two weeks? Does it have anything to do with the price of tea in China? The answer seems to be above everyone’s pay scale that Buckrail talked to. Insert your conspiracy theory here _______.

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