Ashton, who owns several local gas stations as well as serving as executive director of the Utah Petroleum Retailers Organization, said fuel wholesalers have been charging station owners as much as $1.14 per gallon of the unleaded fuel, meaning that many Salt Lake retailers may be selling fuel at less than the cost of what some retailers have to pay for their gasoline.

"It's not a fair business practice. If some retailer down the street lowers his prices, you've got to lower yours or you're not going to pump any gas. However, lowering your price sometimes means that you might not be able to stay in business."

Despite some assessments that the beginning of the Persian Gulf conflict would bring gas-price raises, those did not materialize, although the potential is still there, Ashton said.

"As soon as a Saudi oil refinery gets hit, you can expect a price raise to the $2 range and soon. We're just expecting it. The market is just so unstable now."

The Deseret News interviewed several local retailers, and more than half of the respondents agree with Ashton's assessment. The manager of one Orem gas station and convenience store, who refused to be identified, said the sheer saturation of large retailers - such as those affiliated with oil companies - allows retailers there to be more flexible in their profit margins.