STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The oil that makes it to refineries and into the gas pump is costing quite a bit. The highest price for gas this week according to a federal government report was $3.47 per gallon in San Francisco. But if you live in a remote bush town in Alaska, you're going to be paying a lot more - five dollars, six, even seven dollars per gallon. The only saving grace is that for many of those towns, prices aren't going up. They were locked in back in the fall when an entire winter's fuel supply was shipped in by a river barge and stored.
Angela Denning-Barnes reports from member station KYUK in Bethel in western Alaska.
Mr. KENNY MUSTAFA (Tow Truck Driver): Fifty dollars. Fifty dollars, how many gallons was that?
Unidentified Man #1: Ten point one.
ANGELA DENNING-BARNES: Kenny Mustafa sits in the driver's seat of his Navy blue tow truck waiting for a fill-up. The Albanian immigrant moved to Bethel 16 years ago.
Mr. MUSTAFA: Five dollars per gallon. I mean really expensive. I need a receipt, please?
Unidentified Man #1: Yup.
Mr. MUSTAFA: I do towing 24/7. I'm on the road all the time, people need me, especially if, you know, when it's winter time, you know, it's more gas, you know? It's really expensive. I mean if...
DENNING-BARNES: Mike Reilly(ph) has heard it all before. He runs the Northstar gas station, a little shack painted baby blue near the river.
Mr. MIKE REILLY: We are always hoping that the price will go down when the new gas comes in on the barge, but unfortunately it hasn't.
DENNING-BARNES: That means gas in Bethel will stay at 4.84 a gallon until the next fuel barge in June; that's $2 more than it was five years ago. Reilly's lived in Bethel all his life and he says he feels for his customers.
Mr. REILLY: It's over a hundred and fifty dollars to fill a truck completely from zero tank to full, at least a hundred and fifty dollars, and they won't be able to believe that till they actually get out and see what's on the pump.
DENNING-BARNES: There are no roads in or out of Bethel, but it is still the hub community for dozens of remote villages.
(Soundbite of engine)
DENNING-BARNES: John Dubot(ph) doesn't own a car, but like thousands of others, he comes to Bethel by airplane, boat, or this time of year snow machine. He just made a 13-mile trip across the tundra and is buying $25 of gas.
Mr. JOHN DUBOT: Just do some grocery shopping and do a little banking. I do a lot of traveling up and down, back and forth to Bethel, or getting some wood to - for the firewood, or even go out hunting.
DENNING-BARNES: Gas is usually higher the farther you get from Bethel. It's 5.91 a gallon in Nightmute on the Bering Sea coast. Two hundred miles up river from Bethel, gas is even more expensive at 6.35 a gallon in Sleetmute. Las spring, the village ran out and had to fly it in, raising the price to 7.75 a gallon.
(Soundbite of cash register)
DENNING-BARNES: Harry and Brenda Nicholas(ph) from the nearby village of Napakiak are buying gas in Bethel. At these prices, they don't have to drive far to pay a lot.
Mr. HARRY NICHOLAS: Twenty bucks worth lasts us about two days.
DENNING-BARNES: What are you doing? What are you doing using gas?
Mr. NICHOLAS: We travel back and forth from the store and her grandma's house about a quarter a mile away going back and forth.
DENNING-BARNES: How much road in Napakiak?
Ms. BRENDA NICHOLAS: One long dirt road from one end to the other with a couple of bends around the village.
(Soundbite of engine)
DENNING-BARNES: Moving to a cheaper place isn't much of an option for people whose Yupic culture here goes back thousands of years. They watch the gas prices in the rest of the country drop now and then.
And as Bethel's Brenda George(ph) says, others should be feeling lucky.
Ms. BRENDA GEROGE: They are complaining out there. They're only paying, what, two something? And we're paying almost five bucks here. They should come out here and see how it is.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DENNING-BARNES: For NPR News, I'm Angela Denning-Barnes in Bethel.