staff and wire – “Gas prices near $6 a gallon in parts of Florida”

Gas prices near $6 a gallon in parts of Florida staff and wire | September 12, 2008

Gasoline prices rose to nearly $5.50 a gallon in parts of Florida on Friday when rumors of a fuel shortage spread across the state.

Motorists in Tallahassee were lined up to pay $5.49 per gallon.

A fuel panic swept Gainesville on Thursday, where long gas lines spilled over onto a busy thoroughfare, tempers flared and the police were called, said Randy Bly, a spokesman for AAA Auto Club South.

A fight broke out in a line at a Gainesville station and prices in Southwest Florida began creeping up.

The run on gas was prompted by Hurricane Ike and the closing of several large refineries along the Texas-Louisiana coast.

But Agriculture and Consumers Services Commissioner Charlie Bronson responded quickly.

“There is no fuel shortage in Florida,” Bronson said. “There’s hundreds of millions of gallons available.”

Bronson promised to act quickly to any price gougers.

He said he would subpoena the records of any gas station suspected of price gouging. Violators face a $10,000 fine per violation, up to $25,000 a day. He said retailers can’t raise prices arbitrarily just because they anticipate higher prices in the future.

But, according to Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman Terry McElroy it doesn’t necessarily mean retailers are gouging customers when prices rise wildly.

If wholesale prices justify the increases, there’s not much regulators can do, he said.
Marsha Kut, travel Manager for Lee County AAA, predicted a 20- to 30-cent increase at Lee County pumps.

She said the hike should be short term, lasting a few days to a week.

“We have enough oil,” she said.

Ike’s relentless march across the Gulf of Mexico has had little effect on crude oil future contracts. They even dropped below $100 a gallon at one point Friday before settling at $102.50.

Randy Bly, a spokesman for AAA Auto Club South, said rising prices at the pump seem counterintuitive. He said the increase is related to refinery capacity.

“Our office has been flooded with calls,” Bly said “This was consumer-driven, it was like a run on the bank. There really is no shortage, we are well supplied. There could be some spot outages. We anticipate a price increase of 20 cents to 30 cents a gallon in the next few days.”

Gasoline contracts for October delivery spiked more than 8 percent — 2.08 cents per gallon — on Friday.

“The nightmare scenario is unfolding before our eyes,” said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist with Planalytics Inc. in Wayne, Pa.

Ike’s storm surge will “completely inundate all the refineries and chemical plants that line Galveston Bay from Texas City all the way to Baytown. It’s a storm surge that this part of Texas hasn’t experienced in a lifetime.”

The American Automobile Association reported that the statewide average price for a gallon of unleaded gas in Florida today is $3.69, a penny higher than the national average. Average prices peaked nationally at $4.13 a gallon for regular unleaded on July 1 and have been falling steadily ever since.

Southwest Florida prices averaged $3.673 per gallon Friday.

Some Central Florida retailers are limiting fuel sales, and one convenience store chain with a store in Bonita Springs is asking customers to limit gasoline purchases to 10 gallons.

Melissa Anderson of The Pantry said her company didn’t have supply problems but was being proactive.

“It is voluntary, just to make sure that during this period of time that people are acting responsibly. We did the same thing during Hurricane Katrina,” Anderson said.

The Pantry’s store in Bonita Springs operates as Kangaroo Express on West Terry Street.

In south Lee, drivers have seen prices for regular unleaded hovering between $3.65 and $3.75 this week and on Friday, not much changed.

A Shell station on Old U.S. 41 had regular unleaded for $3.67.

“This is among the cheapest I’ve seen,” said Tony Greene, 24, of Cape Coral.
Across East Terry Street, at the Hess station gas was two cents higher.

In Lehigh Acres Alton Mccall, 18, was pumping gas into his Cadillac at Murphy’s near Wal-Mart. He said he’s worried about increased prices, but he also needs to get around.

“For now, I’ll just hope and pray,” Mccall said.

In Cape Coral Mack Farmer, 50, was skeptical.

“They’re saying gas prices going to jump,” he said. “They’re saying they’re shutting down oil refineries and drilling. If the oil companies can find a way to make more money, they will.”

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 8:31 PM  Leave a Comment  

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