WRANGELL — Wrangell Oil, Inc. officially ceased to exist Friday.
Bill Privett, the current owner of the town’s multi-generational oil concern, sold his company to Seward-based Petro Marine Services for an undisclosed sum. The sale is a win-win for the community, based largely on the economies of the scale Petro Marine can provide, Privett said. The Wrangell Distribution plant joined Petro Marine’s Alaskan plants in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Kodiak, Seward, Sitka, Skagway, Whittier, Anchorage, Homer, Juneau, and a Canadian plant in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Wrangell Oil’s two employees, which include Privett, are now employees of Petro Marine Services.
“It’s a good transition, a good time for me,” he said. “I’ve been working on this for a number of years.”
“I’m excited, and I think once folks fully understand the changes, it should make everyone – where fuel is an important part of their business – this will be a nice thing for them,” he added. “Fuel’s expensive. It’s nice to know that you’re getting it at a competitive or regional rate. Sometimes that hasn’t been the case because of my situation.”
Bill Privett’s father Sam started the company in the 1970s as a distributor and consignee, he said. At that point, the company was known as Wrangell Oil and Heat, based on the primacy of heat oil as the means of heating houses, Privett said. In the 1980s, the business was renamed Wrangell Oil, Inc. The company primarily resold oil from the now-defunct Union Oil Company (which merged as Unocal with Chevron in the early 2000s). In 1992, Bill renovated the plant alongside his father, who then sold the concern to him, and began purchasing oil from Petro Marine.
While the local business has served the community well, regulations have gradually become more burdensome, Privett said.
“Federal regulations, state regulations, permitting, all of that gets worse every year,” he said. “Some folks think if you’re in the oil business you’re selling nuclear waste.”
“Ever since Exxon Valdez, small businesses have been regulated the same as the super large businesses,” he added. “When you have to pay untold thousands of dollars annually just to sell a gallon of fuel,” the situation can be inefficient.
As a result, fuel prices in Wrangell have routinely surpassed fuel prices in nearby towns, like Ketchikan and Petersburg. Fuel prices at the pump in Wrangell Tuesday were $4.729 per gallon at both LNM Services on Front Street and Alpine Mini Mart on Zimovia Highway. By comparison, the best price for gas in Ketchikan, according to www.alaskagasprices.com, was $4.14 per gallon for regular at the Safeway store there. In Petersburg, prices at Petersburg Motors and Southeast Island Fuel were $4.34 and $4.39
Over the years, heating oil sales have also decreased, Privett said. He estimated about eighty percent of customers who used to heat their homes with oil now use electric heaters. At other points, prices have varied by as little as 30 cents, or as much as 70 cents, Privett said.
Though regulations and heating oil decreases have hit his business relatively hard, Privett doesn’t view the sale as a tragedy.
“I think it’s a reality,” he said. “What it had to do with is the price of the commodity I’m selling. The crude oil prices have gone to the point where you have to be big to spread everything out. A little guy has a very difficult time playing with that.”
Representatives for Petro Marine Services couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.