Gas prices are on the rise again.

Most of the area's prices are hovering around the state average, according to AAA, which lists Oregon at $2.12. Hermiston is the exception, with a lower average at $2.089, according to AAA. In Pendleton, the average cost per gallon of gasoline is $2.126. Milton-Freewater's prices average a little higher than the state's at $2.139.

In places closer to the port, the prices are similar: $2.122 per gallon in Umatilla and $2.162 in Boardman.

In Eastern Oregon and around the state, gas prices have increased by about six cents since last week. The national average has risen by three cents in the same time period.

AAA said prices could reach a high of $2.50 within the coming weeks, but are expected to fall again as summer nears.

"With a faltering economy and many people watching their spending, it would be difficult for prices to return to the record highs above $4 a gallon we saw last summer," said AAA Oregon Public Affairs Director Marie Dodd in the report.

While gas prices make their slow climb, crude oil prices are falling, the report said. Prices dropped $34 per barrel this week from $39 per barrel last week on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That compares to the record high of $147 set last July.

This is usually the time of year refineries close for maintenance or begin a seasonal switch from winter to summer blends, the report explained, but this year refineries have cut output due to "lackluster demand."

West county prices

The lowest gas prices in the Hermiston area Wednesday were $1.999 at Space Age Fuel, located on Highway 207 near the Interstate 84 junction, and just east up Interstate 84 at Pilot Travel Center, near Stanfield.

Although Hermiston resident Marlene Bush was aware gas was much cheaper at the two outlying stations and the Circle K Shell, she was filling up at Western Express No. 2, saying she maintains her dedication to the gas station "because of the service."

"Right now it's 10 cents more and I'm still coming here," she said with regular at $2.159 per gallon.

However, Bush has changed her buying habits. As fuel prices raise, she switches to regular gas, rather than super. However, to avoid the pinging in her engine, she does spring for super about every third fill-up.

Joe Castaneda, who regularly fills up at the Circle K Shell Station, 1430 N. First St., stopped at Western Express to get $5 worth of fuel. He was headed to a dentist appointment across the street and just needed a few gallons.

Castaneda prefers the Circle K station, which sold regular at $2.059 Wednesday, because he gets free pop refills.

"I know it's cheaper at the 76 ... but I usually go to Circle K and fill up and get a soda pop," he said.

At Westside 76, located less than two miles away from the Western Express, motorists found prices six cents cheaper.

Larry Haro and Cherie Wilson both purchase their fuel almost exclusively at the 76 station.

"I love the people, but it's about location too," said Wilson, who lives near the station.

"I find that somehow the price is a little lower," Haro added.

Reducing travel

Wilson said when prices started to skyrocket before, she began driving less, including walking her children to school. The mother of four depends on a sport utility vehicle to accommodate two car seats, a booster seat, as well as room for her 17-year-old. Wilson said if gas prices hit $2.25, she'll likely start walking more again.

Kyle Fraunfelder, who pumps gas at Westside 76, said people were "ecstatic" when prices were going down, but that it didn't last long enough.

"People assumed it was going to happen," he said about the increase in fuel prices. "But they didn't think it would go up as fast. They're a little upset."

Fraunfelder said when the prices dropped below $2 per gallon, people typically came in to fill up. Now, he says, people are asking for $10 or $20 worth of fuel.

Belinda Jackson, a cashier at Western Express, and Chuck Beveridge, who's pumped gas at the station for seven years, agreed people aren't filling up as much.

Jackson, Beveridge and Fraunfelder said some people get upset about rising prices, but it hasn't gotten out of hand.

"They get a little annoyed and I agree with them ... with the economy like it is, people are barely making it," Beveridge said. "But overall, people are pretty good about it."

Fraunfelder said he'll remain happy if fuel prices don't soar over $2.50 per gallon.

"I'll get mad if it goes back to $4.50," he said.

If people ask Beveridge why prices are soaring, he tells them he doesn't know, but suggests they call Shell directly.

There's something else Beveridge is in the dark about.

"We have no diesel right now and it's been like that for a week," he said.

East county prices

In Pendleton Wednesday, the lowest prices according to AAA were at the Pendleton Market and 76 station on the east end of town near the interchange with Highway 11. Its price for regular gasoline was $2.07, a nickel less than the state average.

Owner Joel Bock said he doesn't see much of a change in business when prices are $4 or $2 nationwide. What makes a difference, he said, is how his business compares to other local vendors.

"The real impact is if you're a few cents higher or lower than someone else," he said.

He also saw a difference, he said, about a year ago when his station switched from Exxon to 76, which lowered prices.

For other drivers, price isn't as important as service. If the service is good, they often don't even compare prices. Some drivers said they also like to support businesses that support their community.

Location can also make a difference, and though Pendleton Market is near a highway leading to the small towns northeast of Pendleton, he guessed a location like Dave's 12th Street Chevron may pump more gas in a given week than Bock's business does.

Jim Gillum, who was fueling up his SUV at Pendleton Market Wednesday afternoon, said because he lives in Tollgate, the gas prices haven't affected his driving habits.

"You've got to get to work," he said simply.

Oregon gas prices are the seventh highest in the nation for the second week in a row, the AAA report said. In California prices are averaging $2.30 and in Washington they're around $2.20. The current national average is $1.96.

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