Angie’s Blog

Because I Can

If You Smell Gas, It’s Too Late

While I was attending college in Oregon, I worked at a gas station on the other end of town. Most of us are aware that pumping your own fuel in Oregon is against the law and can be punishable by a fine of up to $2,000. I was a gas station attendant and heard a lot of flack from customers who were tired of having someone else pump their gas. Mostly it was out-of-towners who complained but now and then you would get a 3rd-generation Oregonian who was fed up with the system and just wanted to gripe at a minimum-wage worker. If it wasn’t about the fuel dispensing laws, it was about the station’s rules, if it wasn’t about the rule’s, it was about the price, if it wasn’t-

Well, you get the point. We heard a lot.

Let me shine some light on the largest complaints from customers so that you, as an American citizen who will likely buy at least 10 gallons of fuel this week, can have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes at the 3rd level of Hell. (The DMV ranking in at the lowest and most dismal of the levels).

Why can’t I pump my own gas?

I didn’t write the laws in Oregon and trust me, this hurts me as much as it hurts you. However, it is rumored that it is cheaper for the companies to allow only a select few to touch their station pumps. Insurance, for one, will have lower premiums because station attendants are trained on the equipment and are much less likely to start a station fire due to misuse of equipment or product. When you insure only 10 employees vs. 500 high school students, 2,500 college students and the town’s elderly, insurance companies feel a lot safer knowing they only have a few trained individuals to worry about instead of the entire driving population. But how do lower insurance premiums affect the driver? Compare Oregon’s fuel prices to California and Washington. I’m sure having a ‘Portland’ in Oregon, with massive shipments of fuel coming in every day and very little distance to travel to it’s destination, factors into this equation, but if a fuel station company is spending less on insurance premiums then they have a little wiggle room to offer better prices to their customers that are competitive when compared to neighboring states. For example, the current fuel price in Portland, Oregon is $3.93 for regular at Arco vs. Seattle, Washington $4.07 for regular at Arco. In Oregon, you can even find gas for as low as $3.83 at Bob’s Auto and Gas whereas Washington prices range from $4.07 to $4.39 just for regular. (Don’t look now, Diesel is at $5.11 in Washington, too!). California, despite it’s reputation, has a slightly lower price for regular, $3.91 in Sacramento, when compared to Washington and Oregon. However, prices can get as high as $4.39 for regular at Shell and have shot up to $5.29 for Diesel at Valero. ( Oregon gas prices would be even lower then the surrounding states if Oregon taxes didn’t charge so much per gallon, which currently sits at $.24 per gallon (Oregon ODOT)

You might try the argument that everything the companies are saving on insurance premiums, they loose to paying all those extra employees. Uh, not likely. Even with Oregon minimum wage at $7.95 (whoa, maybe I’ll move back there!), thats only $1,200/month gross per full-time employee. Considering you only need 4 extra full-timers in addition to your regular crew of approx 6 to run the pumps, that comes to only $4,800/month that you pay for extra employees. The station I used to work at was open until 10pm and could easily pull in $2,000-2,500 a night, and that’s ignoring what they made during the day! Yeah, I’m guessing they could afford those extra employees without batting an eye.

Another good reason to have a few select employees pump your gas for you is because of the link between fuel products and certain types of cancer. The chemical Benzene, a lead substitute found in gasoline, is a known carcinogen to humans and is believed to be linked to breast cancer. The chemicals 1,3-butadiene are also found in gasoline but are believed to be linked to a wider range of cancers. (Think Before you Pink) A French study has shown that children living near a gas station have four times a greater chance of developing leukemia because of the Benzene from the gasoline and the platinum particles from catalytic converters. (Sepp Hasslberger)

Perhaps this hasn’t been put in writing yet, but wouldn’t the state of Oregon rather treat 10 cases of disease and cancer ridden individuals as opposed to treating the aforementioned hoards of students and elderly? State health insurance would be less, treatment for cancers would be more readily available due to the low number of diseased, everyone is healthy and happy and babies are born with ten fingers and ten toes. Sounds good to me…oh wait, except that I’ll be the one with cancer. Dang it.

Why can’t I smoke at the Station?

I’m assuming most of us have seen The Dark Knight by now. Remember Mr. Dent’s mistake of covering himself with oil and then getting lit on fire? Everyday there is one kind of accident or another at a gas station involving some amount of fuel. Whether a nozzle didn’t click off in time and over-spilled, or a gas can got tipped or someone has a hole in their tank intake (seriously), we attendants get covered in gasoline somehow throughout the day and then you wonder why we don’t walk up to you with that little death stick in your hand? Maybe we don’t feel like becoming charcoal today. When we walk up to your window, covered in our Eau de’Petroleum and you roll down your window to grunt “10 dollars of 89″, the vapors on our clothing are wafting into your vehicle and mixing with the air that your cigarette is surrounded by. Since fuel is more flammable in its vapor form then in it’s liquid form, this causes a very dangerous situation for both of us. If enough vapors enter your vehicle, the air will literally catch fire. Though the fire might be short-lived due to the low concentration of fuel vapors vs. air, the damage will still be done, especially if you’re wearing flammable clothing or your interior catches fire. Not to mention you just fried the poor attendant. Also, along the subject of igniting gasoline vapors, is the fact that every gas station sees many fuel spills a day, and some of them are large. We may put cat litter down to soak up most of the gasoline but the vapors are still there as the gasoline slowly evaporates. You pull up to the pump with the spill, roll down your window and- KABOOM!! Those vapors surrounding your car just came into contact with your lit cigarette and caused an explosion as they ignited. This can lead to a damaged pump and, considering the extent of the damage, the fuel lines running from the pump to the underground holding tanks are now exposed. As the vapors burn, they ignite all standing and evaporating fuel, assume that comes into contact with the pump and travels down to the holding tanks…well, considering there are thousands of gallons of fuel down there with access to air via the ventilation system, now you just blew up an entire city block. Just cause you won’t put out your cigarette.

I had one irate customer once ask me why she should put out her cigarette “It’s not like I’m going to throw it in a puddle of gas!” I’m sorry, but liquid gas is the least of our worries. If you smell gas, it’s already too late if your holding a burning object.

I hope this clears up some questions you may have the next time you’re driving through Oregon or just running down to the corner station and observe the ‘No Smoking’ and ‘Turn off Engine’ signs posted. They aren’t there to make your life miserable, I promise. They’re there to make sure you, and everyone around you, still has a life when you pull away from the pump.

Road trip!

RSS 2.0 | Trackback | Comment

2 Responses to “If You Smell Gas, It’s Too Late”

  1. James

    Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

  2. Becky

    Angie Angie…How’s it going?

    Insurance huh? Well, that answers my question….

    Becky in Corvallis, Oregon, about seven blocks from the station you used to work at.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>