Cantwell calls for federal investigation of high Washington gas prices

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Washington state now has the unfortunate distinction of having the most-expensive gas in the lower 48 states, and some lawmakers are wondering why.

Though prices dropped 12 cents in the last week, AAA said a gallon of regular unleaded is averaging $4.16 statewide – that’s 62 cents higher than the national average.

It’s created a hardship for many in Washington state.

“It’s adding another ten, twenty dollars a week, at least, to go to work,” said Mack McCrery of Seattle.

“It seems oil keeps getting lower and lower, and gas prices stay the same or have gotten higher,” said Justin Williams of Kirkland.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell told KIRO 7 her office has been flooded with calls and emails from consumers wondering why our state is paying so much more for gas. Cantwell said she’s taking that question to the federal government.

“We want answers to why we have 60-cent higher gas prices than the rest of the nation,” Cantwell said.

AAA told KIRO 7 last month that the February fire at BP’s Cherry Point refinery was largely to blame for high West Coast prices. The refinery was taken offline after the fire and didn’t come back on until late May.

Cantwell cited another fire – the one that set off the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – and said that after that devastating blaze, BP and other oil companies worked together to regulate supply and help keep gas prices down.

“In this case (the Cherry Point fire), we had a disaster with one refinery having a fire, and instead of increasing supply, it looks like they took supply offline, and that spiked the gas prices,” she said. “So we want to know why this happened, and we think there’s a problem if you have such a concentrated market and everybody reduces supply and consumers get gouged.”

Now that the Cherry Point refinery is operating again, analysts expect our state’s gas prices to go down.

Still Cantwell has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil companies purposely decreased supply to Washington consumers in recent months and drove gasoline prices up.

KIRO 7 asked the FTC for a timeline on its investigation, but we haven’t yet heard back.