Gas prices jumped at stations around the country today as gasoline futures surged and crude prices rose in the continuing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded refineries, shut pipelines and slashed U.S. fuel production by more than 10 percent.
Pump prices rose to just under $6 a gallon at some retail outlets in the south. CNN showed footage of a gas station in Georgia advertising regular gas for $5.87 a gallon.
According to GasPriceWatch.com, which tracks retail gas prices around the country using volunteers, average gas prices in the United States were just under $3 a gallon. Gas topped $3 a gallon Wednesday in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia and Minnesota, according to GasPriceWatch.com.
In the Washington metropolitan area, gas prices rose a nickel a gallon to an average of $2.73 for self-serve regular, according to the American Automobile Association.
"It's a very substantial jump," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson. "Outside of this crisis, a nickel jump would be huge. But it's less than we expected."
Officials in Maryland and Virginia said they were monitoring complaints from residents about price gouging. (See related story | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/31/AR2005083102644.html from Thursday's Washington Post.)
The gas price increases in the wake of the Katrina disaster came on top of a 40 percent rise in gas prices last year, according to Energy Department figures.
Long lines formed at gas stations in some southern cities, causing some local stations to run out of fuel. In Charlotte, N.C., a run on fuel shut up to 40 stations.
Anderson said that at many stations in the Washington area, prices jumped 30, 40 and 50 cents a gallon. Average gas prices in the District were the highest in the area at $2.77 a gallon; average state-wide Virginia prices were $2.62 a gallon and in Maryland, gas prices averaged $2.73 a gallon, according to the AAA.
Local motorists reported prices over $3 a gallon at stations around the area.
Anderson said prices were highest at the smaller, independent stations that didn't have a locked-in corporate supply. Those stations usually have the lowest gas prices, he said.
Anderson said there was plenty of gas at the moment in the Washington metropolitan area. He said it was also a positive that the Katrina crisis happened at the end of the peak summer driving season, rather than at the beginning of the summer driving rush.
"We only had one week of heavy usage left when Katrina hit," said Anderson. "Gas usage usually falls off sharply after Labor Day."
Jet fuel supply was also tight, according to Jack Evans, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents the nation's largest passenger and cargo carriers.
"Supply was already very tight and it's tighter now," said Evans. "The two major pipelines to the East coast are only just starting to come back today."
Evans said planes heading to the East Coast and Southeast airports are leaving their original airports with full tanks in the hopes of not having to refuel.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said that so far, there was sufficient jet fuel for planes at Dulles and Reagan National airports.
"As of this moment, we have not experienced any interruptions in our fuel supply," said airport authority spokeswoman Courtney Prebich. "Typically, we keep about seven to 10 days of fuel on site and then our supplier keeps a week to 10 days of supply. Although there are disruptions in the pipeline, we haven't seen that here yet."
Panicked motorists formed long lines at stations in Georgia in advance of the three-day Labor Day weekend. Lines miles long also formed at the gas stations that were still open in the southern Gulf states directly affected by Katrina. Many stations limited consumers to $20 worth of gas and accepted only cash. Motorists pushed their cars forward to conserve gas; tempers flared as some people tried to jump the line or enter the stations from other entrances.
In Charlotte, N.C., panicked motorists flocked to gas stations to fill up, causing up to 40 stations out of the some 230 in the area to run out of fuel.
"There was a run on fuel here," said Julie Hill, a spokeswoman for the city of Charlotte. "There were long lines at stations here." Hill said the run on fuel happened after the city announced there would be temporary shortages because the pipelines feeding the southern city were affected by the hurricane. She said the pipelines, which run from the Gulf coast all the way to the Northeast, have started back up, albeit at a much reduced capacity.
"We will continue to receive fuel," Hill said, "but not at the same level as before."
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (D) called on state residents to carpool and limit their driving.
"We are not out of gas, but we are running low," said Easley, who suspended all nonessential government travel, according to the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper.
Concern seems to be mounting among consumers that there is a limited supply of gasoline and that the situation could go the way of the 1970s gas crisis, with the return of long lines at the pumps and gas scarcities. Analysts say, however, that while shortages have been reported in a few scattered markets, they do not believe gas shortages are widespread.
"There is a bit of panic among many motorists now," said Justin McNaull, national spokesman for AAA. "They're concerned about possible outages of gasoline or price spikes. Unfortunately, concerns about gas lines and outages ultimate beget gas lines and outages."
McNaull said that "at this point, what we're hearing from government and industry is that we should not expect to see any significant regional outages of gasoline." He said that in some parts of the country distributors were not re-supplying all of the gas stations.
"The small gas stations, the mom-and-pops, the grocery stores, the unbranded gas stations are last on the list," said McNaull.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) signed an executive order Wednesday authorizing state sanctions against gas stations that gouge consumers.
"I do not believe there is an energy emergency in this state, but we will not tolerate our citizens perceiving the fact there is by exorbitant price-gouging prices," he said. "Frankly, when you prey upon the fears, the paranoia of citizens, it is akin to looting in a different sort of way, Perdue said, according to news reports.
Perdue's order allows the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs to seek civil sanctions against retailers who can not justify their prices based on what they paid at the terminal for the product, adjusted for their normal markup.
Stan Sheetz, president of Sheetz Inc., an Altoona, Pa.-based owner of 315 filling stations in six states in the Southeast, called the situation a "crisis," according to the Bloomberg news agency.
In New Jersey, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey (D) ordered increased state inspections at gas stations for possible price gouging, according to the Associated Press.
Gasoline futures were pushed upward on the word that wholesale gasoline suppliers in the United States have begun capping the amount of fuel they sell to retailers in certain markets to make sure retailers do not take delivery of more than they need.
Light sweet crude for October delivery rose to $69.20 a barrel by afternoon trading in Europe. Gas jumped to $2.365 a gallon.