When gasoline or diesel is pumped into the tank of a car, the thought of where that fuel comes from doesn't always come to mind. It's generally known that most crude oil comes from the Middle East, but common knowledge usually stops there.
The journey gasoline takes to get from those far-away places to the tank can influence the price people pay at the pump, whether it's $4 or $2.
One of the reasons Oregon, as a state, has higher fuel costs is because it comes from out of state.
"We're big importers," said Oregon Department of Energy Spokesman Lou Torres. "We produce very little of our own transportation fuel."
Torres said Oregon is often in the top 5 to 7 percent in the nation as far as cost per gallon.
Most of the oil that eventually makes its way to Oregon, and Eastern Oregon, comes into the Northwest through the Puget Sound. Torres said about 20 percent comes from Saudi Arabia or the Middle East, a large amount comes from Canada and some from Alaska.
Washington also has something Oregon doesn't: Refineries.
"We don't refine anything petroleum that comes in," Torres said. "That plays a role in the price, certainly."
After it's refined in Washington, the fuel travels down a pipeline to the Portland area, where it's blended.
That's where the Oregon Department of Agriculture comes in.
ODA's measurements and standards division is responsible for making sure gasoline (or petroleum) meets a federal standard set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
"ASTM set minimum standards on anything you can think of, probably even this pencil on my desk," said Clark Cooney, measurements and standards assistant administrator. "All states within the motor fuel quality program adopted ASTM standards into laws to set a minimum requirement for fuels. As long as ASTM is satisfied, Oregon is satisfied."
The Portland area is also where all the additives from the different gasoline companies like Shell, Chevron or ARCO put their own unique "blend" of additives into the mix.
"If a particular brand or business wanted to add or enhance quality of fuel by adding extra detergent additives," Cooney said, "they're free to do so as long as it meets ASTM standards."
And each brand does have its own makeup.
"They make 'their' brand of gasoline," Cooney said. "It carries a chemical marker to identify a brand of gasoline."
If a company representative wanted to test fuel at a given station, he should be able to identify it as the company's gasoline by what's in it. Or if there's an accident and a truck spills fuel all over the highway, they could identify the company based on the fuel's makeup.
Portland is also the place where the state is meeting a new 10 percent ethanol standard.
Once the big distributors load up with their special blend, they head for distribution points throughout the state. In general wholesalers and distributors will align themselves with one brand of gasoline, Cooney said, because of the unique blend factor.
Fuel that comes into the state in Portland could come to Umatilla or Morrow Counties by rail or truck, but most likely by barge.
But in the Hermiston/Pendleton area, Cooney said most of the fuel will come from a Tri-Cities distribution point where the fuel undergoes a process much like what happens in Portland. Cooney said the gasoline is still legal to bring into the state because coming from Washington it will meet those ASTM standards.
A very small amount of fuel may come to Eastern Oregon from Utah by way of a pipeline to Boise and trucked from there. But Cooney said that's more likely for places like Ontario or Vale.
Next, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality steps in. It monitors all underground storage tanks.
Andree Pollock, representing DEQ, said there are 11 facilities with underground tanks in Morrow County and 73 in Oregon. On average, a gasoline station will have about three tanks.
In Morrow County, seven of those 11 facilities are retail gas stations, Pollock said. The capacity of those seven stations is 6,800 gallons of diesel and 133,000 gallons of gasoline.
In Umatilla County, 42 of the 73 facilities are active retail gas stations. They hold 391,100 gallons of diesel and 918,500 gallons of gasoline.
In the early 1990s, Pollock said the state approved grants and loans to build stations in more remote parts of the sate and over time fewer and fewer are in business. That might account for the difference in the number of tanks DEQ monitors and the number of active stations.