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Rumors of gas shortage create lines

September 12, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

Motorists waited for more than a half hour to fill up at the Costco gas pumps in El Centro Tuesday night as gas stations throughout the county had more customers than usual.

Costco gas station attendant Manuel "Rod" Rodriguez said customers were drawn to Costco by rumors of gas shortages and imminent price increases.

"There was an anticipation of an increase. People were hearing things on the news," he said.

Costco did not raise prices in the wake of the increased demand, although other stations around the country did.

R&L Texaco in Oklahoma City increased the price of unleaded gasoline to $5 a gallon after a supplier told the owner it was unclear when the next shipment would be available or its price.

Authorities there were investigating instances of price-gouging, while Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore asked Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to declare a state of emergency that would allow prosecutors to pursue price-gougers there.


Rodriguez checked his competitors' prices this morning. He pulled out a folded sheet with the prices on it.

On Monday, unleaded regular gasoline was selling at an average of $1.83 around El Centro. As of Wednesday morning the average had jumped six cents to $1.89.

At Costco the discounted price stayed fixed at the members only rate of $1.82.

"We held fast but everyone else inched up a little," Rodriguez said.

The line stretched all the way to the Costco station entrance Tuesday night and lines were long from 4 p.m. to closing at 9 p.m.

Rodriguez said one local man filling his vehicle told a story about his son, who had been scheduled to fly on American Airlines Flight 11.

The man's son didn't board the plane, which was hijacked and flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

"I went golfing instead," the son told his father, Rodriguez said.

When the man's son decided to rent a car and drive home to the Imperial Valley from Boston, he encountered prices of $7.50 at Buffalo gas stations.

"They didn't mention that on any of the newscasts," Rodriguez said.

He did hear reports about the $5-a-gallon prices in the Midwest and said, "That's just people jumping the gun."

He warned there could be price increases in the Valley but so far had only heard of a gas shortage back east. Costco won't raise prices unless the local petroleum seller raises prices, Rodriguez said.

At a Super Pumper Amoco station in Devils Lake, N.D., the price of a gallon of regular unleaded shot to $3.29, said Luke Leitch, a clerk at the station.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the rising prices across the country were discussed at a Senate briefing Tuesday night the said Congress may take action soon to stop price gouging.

‘‘That's the last thing that should be happening,'' Conrad said.

El Centro resident Erica Prieto said she thinks gas stations have a responsibility to explain any sudden price increase to customers to avoid any charges of price gouging.

"They need to try to keep it level," she said.

On Wednesday morning she pumped $10 worth of am/pm unleaded in the tank of her Dodge pickup in El Centro.

Why not fill it up?

"Not right now," she said with a smile.

At the Big John Foodmart/USA station on Ross Avenue in El Centro, Alice Solis put in $12 worth of unleaded.

She said she is worried gas prices are going to go up but said, "What can I do? I have to work every day — Monday through Friday."

Back at the am/pm, Carla Reyes of El Centro filled her Nissan Maxima with $25 of gas at $1.89 per gallon.

She said an increase in prices would affect her budget because she has to drive to Brawley every day.

Reyes added: the possibility of shortages or embargoes of Middle East supplies of crude oil have her worried about the immediate future of gas prices.

The nation's largest oil companies tried to allay the concerns of millions of motorists Tuesday by freezing prices and pledging to keep distribution steady, but their efforts seemed to have little immediate impact.

Gas prices rose almost immediately in parts of the Midwest, where prices were already high because of distribution bottlenecks.

The average price of gasoline late last week, including all grades and taxes, was $1.56 per gallon, according to the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 stations nationwide.

In Washington, the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, issued a statement reassuring motorists there is no threat of a fuel shortage.

‘‘Fuels are flowing normally to wholesale and retail markets throughout the United States,'' said the institute, adding gasoline and diesel fuel inventories ‘‘are adequate to meet demand.''

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which controls about 40 percent of the world's oil, was monitoring the attack aftermath on Wednesday. Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez Araque said all 11 member countries ‘‘remain committed to continuing their policy of strengthening market stability and ensuring that sufficient supplies are available.''

‘‘OPEC members are prepared to use their spare capacity, if deemed necessary, to achieve these goals,'' he said in a statement issued by OPEC headquarters in Vienna.

Exxon Mobil and BP, the nation's two largest oil companies, sought to calm energy markets, telling traders supplies would not be hampered, except around New York City. The companies urged consumers not to stockpile gasoline.

‘‘We are asking all of our customers to maintain their normal buying habits,'' Exxon Mobil spokesman

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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