Bill Best has been out of premium and plus gasoline at his Kirkland gas station for the past two weeks. Yesterday he ran out of regular unleaded. He's losing customers to a station down the street that's charging 10 cents less a gallon.
And there's nothing he can do about it.
"We've run out of gas, and no one is delivering," said Best, who runs Yarrow Bay Shell. "We're dead in the water now. All my customers are unhappy, and the frustrating part is I don't know whether I'm going to get (gas) or when. You can't run a business this way."
Shell, which owns and supplies Best's station, cut by 20 percent the amount of gasoline it supplies to its stations. The oil giant says it limited supplies because of last week's cold snap and small fires at its Anacortes refinery Jan. 5.
Refinery fires happen four to seven times a year and wouldn't restrict gas supplies if the major oil companies kept gasoline in reserve, said Tim Hamilton, executive director of AUTO, a trade group of 500 gas-station dealers in Washington.
"Oil companies intentionally keep supplies low to keep prices high," he said. "When a refinery goes offline, they raise prices to keep consumption low. Dealers are helpless to do anything."
Thankfully I only have to fill up my tank about every two weeks, but I drive past two gas stations on my way to and from work every day and had been watching the prices rise with annoyance.