Energy Department officials say three more major oil companies have told DOE that they may have to join Shell and Amoco in rationing supplies to their sales outlets.
Texaco, Atlantic Richfield and Continental Oil Co. have either filed or indicated an intent to file for DOE approval of gasoline allocation plans, according to john F. O'Leary, deputy energy secretary.
O'Leary's disclosure came on the heels of assurances Friday from the American Petroleum Institute about the winter months. "There may be temporary spot shortages of high-octane unleaded gasoline in certain areas, but there is no reason for anyone to fear that there will not be adequate gasoline," API president Frank Ikard said in a statement.
Shell, the nation's largest gasoline marketer, with 8 percent of the market, has been hit recently by spot shortages of unleaded premium gasoline. Even though it is technically providing its dealers with 75 percent of their allowed allocation, in fact the Houston-based company plans to sell as much gasoline this December as it did last December.
Friday Standard Oil of Indiana (Amoco) said it would begin allocating lead-free gasoline to some of its wholesalers and retailers, although the company does not expect any significant shortages.
DOE and oil executives have continued to stress that the limited shortages of unleaded gasoline at some companies are due to federal energy and environmental regulations. The regulations, they say, have held down oil company profits, discouraging production of unleaded gas. DOE also says that there is no prospect that the shortages could lead to the long gaspump lines the nation experienced during the 1973 Arab oil embargo.
As for the current situation, DOE spokesman James Bishop Jr. said yesterday, "Inventories are moving up again -- 5.1 million barrels last week -- and that's a good sign." Bishop also said that colder winter weather and snowstorms expected in the next weeks are also good news because they would force down gasoline usage.
Both DOE and the oil industry want to end controls on gasoline prices, an action Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger Jr. has said he will propose to Congress in January. Gasoline use accounts for 40 percent of the oil consumed in the United States.
Some consumer and environmental groups have expressed opposition to decontrol, saying it would raise prices and company profits while discouraging motorists from using pollutionfree unleaded gasoline.
DOE's move to decontrol would raise gasoline prices by 4 cents a gallon, 2 cents more than the oil cartel will if it increases oil prices 10 percent this month as expected.
Since 1973 the gasoline price has risen from 38.8 cents to 67.1 cents for a gallon of regular, according to API. In some parts of the country, unleaded premium gasoline is selling for 80 cents a gallon.