I rarely think about the price of gas, until it gets especially expensive compared to what I am accustomed to. When prices are high I tend to hear about it on the news right away because everyone else is thinking about it at the same time I am. The price of gasoline ends up being a signal for other things, like world unease due to war. It makes investors worry or relax, which impacts the stock market. It modifies our behavior, such as making a decision about a spring break road trip. I saw a TikTok of a Native man who was forced to ride his horse into town because he couldn’t afford gas. It was a joke, but people can relate to that.
I recall when I heard in April of 2020 that crude oil was trading for less than zero dollars per barrel. -$37 in fact! Just before my March road trip, President Biden announced that we would stop importing Russian oil, and (despite not needing any Russian oil because we produce our own) that same index was trading barrels of crude at $123 per barrel. I have the luxury of choosing to drive, despite the cost. One thing expensive gas can tell you is who among us is privileged. Another thing is that a change in price of $160 a barrel in only two years means our economy is not secure.
Gas prices in Oregon are high because we have some of the highest state taxes in the country. It feels more painful than it has to, because it was two dollars a gallon less just a year ago. As I passed through Idaho and Utah, prices were nearly the same. I found that in rural areas, prices steadily rose and soon were over $5.00 per gallon. If I was diligent, I could find a place here and there for less than that. Expensive gas teaches you to pay careful attention to average prices and what conditions will result in cheaper gas: a gas station that is not a name brand, paying in cash v. with a card, driving to a station 1/2 mile off the highway v. a station right next to the highway.
Totally unrelated: I do enjoy pumping my own gas. In Oregon, by law, fuel is dispensed by gas station attendants. As soon as I left the state I was allowed to do it myself.
Some of the lowest gas prices I saw on my whole trip were on tribal land. I chose a route that sent me through multiple American Indian reservations in land belonging to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, San Juan Southern Paiute, Navajo Nation, and White Mountain Apache tribe. I wondered if gas is not taxed on reservations. However, after an hour of research, I found that the answer is not so simple. I couldn’t find information about federal tax, but one source that seemed reliable said states can’t force tribes to apply a sales tax to gasoline. However, a website for Oregon explained that tribes are prohibited from qualifying for other benefits unless they agreed to tax gasoline sales at the same rate as non-native lands. I found an example of how Washington state had changed their laws to close a loophole so that Washington tribes were obligated to pay a tax for importing fuel from Oregon. Maybe Utah and Arizona tax their tribes differently. I never did find any rules regarding federal tax.
Totally unrelated: when stopping on tribal lands, I was surprised to hear a lot of Navajo spoken. It is reassuring how established and dominant the Navajo culture is.
While in Arizona, prices were not terrible, but my Montana family was unhappy to find that it was much higher than Montana prices. Gas prices are highly dependent on the cost and the distance from the refinery that serves them. Anyone who gets their fuel from California refineries must suffer.
When I lived in California years ago, I learned that the state always has the most expensive gas in the country, due to high state tax in addition to expensive treatment the gasoline must go through to meet state laws. So I was smart and filled my tank before I crossed from Arizona into California.
I drove for two days in California, and had to fill the tank multiple times there. The most expensive gas for me was $6.59 a gallon. I was grateful at that time though, because I was running on fumes and worried that I would run out of gas on the freeway – yikes. In northern California it dropped off to $5.61 a gallon. You see the prices I’m quoting are the ones for “regular” gasoline, not premium. High gas prices often make people change the quality of the gasoline they purchase. I’m a cheapskate on gasoline, and buy the regular almost 100% of the time, even when gas prices are low. Another thing I learned was that, while Diesel fuel used to be reliably cheaper, during this trip it was reliably more expensive.
Totally related: At that TA Travel Center in the photo, I saw this sticker on my pump, after I had just used my card to purchase $82 of fuel.
I laughed out loud. Every now and then, the fools display some cleverness.