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Adding Fuel to the Ire

April 12, 1999|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nothing gets people gassed like rising prices. Witness the call to action over the Internet for a "Gas Out" April 30 in response to the rising prices of fuel.

In California, the average price of regular self-serve gasoline has jumped nearly 50 cents per gallon in the last six weeks because of an agreement in late March by major oil-producing companies to reduce exports. To protest, an e-mail is being forwarded to thousands of Internet users. "Gas prices are rising despite millions of gallons in storage. The so-called oil cartel is slowing production by 2 million barrels a day to drive up prices," one version reads.

Laura Gurak, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota and an author on Internet protest, praises the populist effort. "[It's] an example of the ability of the cyberspace community to gather like-minded individuals into a group," she says. "When people want to create bottom-up action, the Internet is a powerful tool."

The proposed boycott is fueling debate on Deja News (http://www.dejanews.com), an archive of Usenet postings on the Internet. "If there was just one day when no one purchased any gasoline, prices would drop drastically," a response from the Bay Area reads. Says another, "[Of] course you know the massive increase in gas sales on Saturday [May 1] will cancel out the 'Gas Out' on Friday. What we need to do is to have a 'Great Gas Out Week' or 'Great Gas Out Month.' "

Not everyone is so enthusiastic. "I think that most Alaskans want the gas price to go up, so that the current budget crunch due to low gas prices will be alleviated in future years. You probably just assured that everyone in the state who reads this . . . will probably buy gas on April 30 to offset your efforts. Realize that not everywhere does the California mentality exist," says a posting from Alaska.

Susan Carter, a spokeswoman for Mobil Oil Co., said she is aware of the e-mail and that the corporation has no position on it. "People have the right to make whatever decisions they choose, including when they buy gas." She would not speculate about whether a one-day "Gas Out" would have an effect on gasoline prices, but said Mobil has no plans to change its pricing strategy.

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