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The Nation

Gas prices surge -- in some places topping $5

September 14, 2008|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

Hurricane Ike struck at the heart of the nation's largest fuel-refining center early Saturday, but soaring fuel prices had hit consumers well before that, reversing recent price declines and sending costs above $5 a gallon in places far from the stricken Gulf Coast.

The average price of regular unleaded rose to $3.73 per gallon Saturday, from $3.68 the day before.

Fuel supplies had grown tight after Hurricane Gustav shut down many Louisiana refineries and pipelines. The situation worsened when Ike approached, causing 14 fuel- making facilities in Texas -- amounting to about 20% of the nation's capacity -- to shut down as a precaution.

In addition, pipelines that carry fuel from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest and to the East Coast were partly or completely shut down as Ike approached.

Consumers reported stunning jumps in gas prices in Tennessee, North Carolina and other locales far from the hurricane center.

Some stations ran out of gas or had long lines of motorists; others posted prices above $5 a gallon, triggering complaints of gouging.

By Saturday evening, Florida Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum said, his office had received 261 complaints about price gouging.

In Connecticut, Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, who won $45,000 in settlements from five gas stations accused of gouging after Hurricane Katrina, was also collecting complaints.

President Bush said Saturday that "the Department of Energy, the Federal Trade Commission and I know state authorities will be monitoring gasoline prices to make sure consumers are not being gouged, make sure consumers are being treated fairly."

The hurricane hit with less force and with a smaller storm surge than feared, and Valero Energy Inc. said its Texas plants in Houston, Texas City and Port Arthur did not sustain major damage.

Status reports from oil rigs, refineries, ports and pipelines will trickle in over the next few days.

Fixing the region's widespread power outages will probably be the biggest factor in determining how quickly refineries and pipelines return to normal operations.

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elizabeth.douglass@ latimes.com

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