Ike gas spike causes panic

Published 11:21 am Monday, September 15, 2008

With a declared state of emergency in Alabama, local law enforcement will be on the lookout for fuel price gouging.

“When the governor issued his declaration, that authorized us to prosecute what they’re doing,” said Pike County District Attorney Gary McAliley. “If appropriate, we will prosecute anyone who gouges the public.”

Gov. Bob Riley on Friday declared a state of emergency amid fears that Hurricane Ike would cause fuel shortages.

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The state law that prohibits “unconscionable pricing” of items for sale or rent goes into effect when in a state of emergency.

McAliley said they have no reports of price gouging in Pike County yet, but he expects there will be some made.

“The citizens are the eyes and ears of the community, and they can see what goes on, and there is going to be some price gouging,” McAliley said.

McAliley said he urges local residents to contact the Pike County Sheriff’s Office or the District Attorney office if they suspect they are being wronged.

Around town, prices have risen from as low as $3.76 Friday to as high as $4.39 Saturday afternoon at different stations.

Some stations have run out of fuel amid panic caused by Hurricane Ike.

Clay Ingram, spokesman for Alabama AAA, said there is no fuel shortage, though there will likely be some areas experiencing gas outages and higher prices.

“Higher prices and a big disparity in pricing from station to station is what we’ll see over the next couple of weeks,” Ingram said.

Ingram said many smaller fuel stations that are unbranded, often purchase gas daily or weekly from a surplus supplier for a lower price. With Ike shutting many oil companies down on the coast of Texas, Ingram said there is little surplus fuel.

“And 99.9 percent of the time, they are able to buy it a little cheaper and in turn, sell it a little cheaper,” Ingram said.

But, with surplus gas rising dramatically, Ingram said some stations will either have to sell at a high rate, perhaps as high as $5.30, or they may choose to be out of gas until the crisis passes.

Larger branded fuel stations, will likely not run out of gas over the next few weeks because they purchase from a long-term supplier, Ingram said.

While prices may jump for their stations, he said they should not go past $4.25 per gallon for regular gas.

“Just because we see those things doesn’t mean there’s a shortage. There’s plenty of gas out there overall,” Ingram said. “The last thing we can do is panic about it because it causes prices to go up much higher and faster than they need to be.”

On Friday, several Troy gas stations ran out of gas and many others had concerns it would run out before the weekend ended.

Martha Norman, owner of Sunny South Pitstop, said their fuel comes from companies in Texas, and their supplier in Montgomery was already out.

“If this thing hits with minimal damage, it will probably be up and running before the weekend’s over,” Norman said. “But, if they have a lot of damage, it could be weeks.”

Norman said on Friday, her customers were limited to purchasing just 10 gallons of gas to keep the supply as long as possible.

Gwen Still, manager of the BP station on Highway 231 said the station raised their prices to $3.99, but that price was there to stay until the gas ran out, which she said she thought might happen by Saturday.

Across the state, there were reports of gas prices as high as $5.29 per gallon, and the attorney general’s office had received more than 220 complaints of price gouging, according to reports from the Associated Press.