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Tentative Refinery Strike Settlement Should Help With Gas Prices

The United Steelworkers union and major oil refiners have reached a tentative contract settlement.

That should end a six-week strike at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington, and others around the country. An industry analyst said this should help to moderate gasoline prices.

Crude oil prices have stayed low and pretty stable all winter. But despite that, retail gasoline prices began a sharp run-up in early February.

Allison Mac, West Coast analyst for the price tracking website, identified a convergence of problems at the refinery level, including a fire in California, scheduled maintenance downtime elsewhere, and the union strike.

"Knowing that this strike is coming to a very close end, it's definitely helping with the market,” she said. “We're going to see prices go back down."

Mac said she's already noticed the first signs of a fallback. She said recent inventory surveys show ample gasoline supplies on the West Coast.

Management and non-union staff kept the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes in operation during the long Steelworkers walkout. Unionized workers said they went on strike primarily over safety issues including staffing and scheduling practices they claimed led to dangerous fatigue.

The Steelworkers union local in Northwest Washington and the Tesoro company are now in talks over a local contract patterned on the national settlement, which covers four years. That contract would need to be ratified by the membership.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.