With the effect on gas prices of last week's fire at the Chevron Oil refinery in California already being felt by Oregonians at the pump, U. S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a pair of letters to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration asking them to increase vigilance "to ensure that oil companies are not taking unfair advantage of the situation to jack up prices."
A fire at Chevron's Richmond, Calif. oil refinery -- the third largest in the state -- has knocked out some of the refining capacity West Coast, causing prices in Oregon to spike by more than 20 cents per gallon in the last week alone. The extent of the damage at the refinery is still unknown; however, when a fire at a similarly-sized plant in Washington State disrupted refining capacity earlier this year, Oregonians saw an increase of more than 70 cents per gallon.
"In these difficult economic times," Wyden wrote in the letter to the FTC, "retail consumers and businesses are already struggling with high fuel costs. I respectfully request that your agency work with the EIA and the appropriate state agencies to monitor the West Coast petroleum markets and ensure that consumers are protected during this situation."
The Chevron refinery and the BP Cherry Point/Puget Sound refineries both have the capacity to refine 240,000 and 230,000 barrels of oil per day respectively. While Oregonians receive most of their gasoline from refineries in Washington, some receive gasoline from California refineries and the decrease in supply has the capability of affecting gas prices up and down the entire West Coast. In order to protect consumers, Wyden's letter calls on the two agencies to keep a close eye on any potential price gouging the situation may create.