Motorists wait in line to fill up as Ike roars ashore

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Mark Sokolowski said it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
People hear there’s going to be a gas shortage, so they all rush out to buy gas and ó voila! ó there’s a gas shortage.
“We used to joke that Food Lion used to say it was going to snow so they could sell more bread and milk,” said Sokolowski, owner of West Innes Exxon. “It’s sort of the same thing with gas.”
Across Rowan County as well as the rest of the state and nation, spot gasoline outages were reported Friday as motorists filled up in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Ike.
Owing to ó take your pick ó a communist plot, a monopoly of diabolical area gas station owners or the closing of Gulf Coast refineries, prices also soared Friday, topping $4 a gallon in many places and $5 in some.
The worst may be yet to come.
Exxon Mobil Corp., Valero Energy Corp., ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Co. were among the companies that stopped refinery operations on the Texas coast, primarily in the Houston area.
Some analysts say that depending upon the severity of Ike’s visit, $5 a gallon gas may be more the norm than the exception for a week or so.
Or this may be a momentary blip, forgotten within the week.
“If there’s no damage to the refineries, the prices could drop within a couple of days,” Sokolowski said. “It’s all panic buying at the moment. I guarantee you every gas tank in Rowan County is filled to the top.”
At Hill’s Minnow Farm on Bringle Ferry Road, owner Terry Hill said his station was out of regular gas and had a limited amount of premium remaining Friday afternoon.
Hill said his distributor told him that gas prices were expected to spike another 50 cents to $1 a gallon at 6 p.m. Friday, the hour when the daily adjustments are made.
Hill said the distributor told him he’d try to get him a load before 6 p.m. Hill said if that didn’t happen, he wasn’t sure he was going to buy gas this weekend.
He said a spike in prices could cost him an additional $8,000 to $9,000 for the load.
Once he buys that, Hill said, it’s his, even if prices drop within a few days. He said overpaying for the gas due to the temporary price spike could cost him $6,000 to $7,000.
So he’s better off, he said, to let his pumps remain empty for the weekend.
“It’s not like there ain’t no gas,” Hill said. “It just depends on how much you want to pay.”
That’s apparently true.
Supply to North Carolina isn’t a problem yet, said Colonial Pipeline spokesman Steve Baker. The pipeline, which brings most gas into the state, is filling its orders, he said.
AAA Carolinas was urging motorists Friday to show restraint until the results of Ike’s impact on Texas refineries can be assessed.
“The fear of what might happen if these refineries are severely damaged has caused widespread panic resulting in some stations running out of product, some stations raising prices dramatically in anticipation of high fuel replacement costs, and some stations trying to restrict the number of gallons being purchased,” said David Parsons, president of AAA Carolinas.
“The run on gas stations is creating a crisis before one actually exists. We are making a possibly bad situation reality when motorists top off their tanks.”
North Carolina continues under a state of emergency called for Hurricane Hanna. That means stations should not charge more for gas than what the gas in the ground cost the station plus the margin of profit that existed 60 days before the state of emergency was declared.
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If you know of gas stations involved in price gouging, call the N.C. Attorney General’s number set up for such instances at 1-877-5NO-SCAM.