Gasoline prices rise in Vicksburg with refineries’ stops

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 14, 2008

From staff and AP reports

With Gulf Coast refineries shut down as Hurricane Ike swept across Texas Saturday, gas prices in Mississippi and the Southeast saw varying rises and some shortages. In Vicksburg, prices rose slightly at all stations while plastic bags could be seen over the pumps of lower octane grades at a few stations.    

“There are going to be some shortages, but there’s still plenty of gas,” said Dan Waring, president of Waring Oil Company, which provides gas to Chevron, Texaco and Exxon stations in Vicksburg. “We’re in good shape. It’s going to be over with in another couple of days.”

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The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in Vicksburg rose to $3.78 Saturday afternoon, up from about $3.64 on Friday. One station on U.S. 61 South was selling regular unleaded gas for $4.29 a gallon on Saturday; however, nearby competitors were selling at the city average. Several stations were still posting signs asking customers to limit gas purchases to 10 gallons.

The signs had popped up around the city on Thursday, after word spread prices were sure to skyrocket as supplies dwindled. While lines were long at several stations, most did not run out of gas.

In Jackson, the situation appeared to be similar to that in Vicksburg. Some gas stations were reportedly out of or low on unleaded gasoline Saturday, as fuel deliveries were slowed by Ike. Many stations had plastic bags over gas pumps, while others asked customers to voluntarily limit themselves to 10 gallons. Unlike Friday, however, none had long lines wrapping around corners.  

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said his office had received more than 150 complaints of alleged price-gouging by Friday afternoon at stations statewide as Ike neared landfall. While he said teams of investigators were checking out the claims, he noted an unusual number of gas stations had contacted his office to report their prices were higher because they were paying wholesalers more for gas.

Wholesale gas prices along the Gulf Coast jumped as much as $2 per gallon in the past couple of days. It is illegal for gas stations to increase profits during a state of emergency, said Hood; however, there is nothing illegal about raising prices if the wholesale prices are also increased.

Across portions of the Southeast, gas prices reportedly saw sharper increases. Customers in western North Carolina reported gas selling for as high as $5.99 a gallon Saturday. In South Carolina, where gas prices increased about 20 cents per gallon, Attorney General Henry McMaster said gas stations that price-gouge would face criminal prosecution.

Governors in North Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas signed orders or made declarations allowing attorney generals to enforce anti-gouging laws as Ike approached landfall. Officials in Mississippi said they would require merchants to justify questionable increases.

It was not yet clear Saturday how oil refineries and drilling rigs fared through Ike. Refineries along the upper Texas Gulf Coast account for about one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity. Thirteen Texas refineries had been shut down due to Ike, according to the Department of Energy.

The Minerals Management Service confirmed two reports of drilling rigs adrift in the central Gulf of Mexico Saturday. Spokesman Eileen Angelico said the rigs are about 100 miles off the Louisiana coast, with the MMS and U.S. Coast Guard monitoring the paths of the rigs. Regional director Lars Herbst says the rigs have been relatively stationary for several hours. He said they expect tugs to be on location to secure the rigs when sea conditions allow.