Gas Price Hikes, Shortage Fears Unfounded, Industry Experts Say

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As Rim country motorists lined up at gasoline-station pumps Wednesday, expecting a Y2K-style gas shortage in the wake of Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, local fuel prices actually dropped or remained steady and national experts proclaimed that the nation's current gasoline supplies are healthy.

"Yesterday, we had a quite a few people lining up, but today has been normal," said Terry Lamb, acting store manager at Payson Marketplace, Thursday afternoon. "We probably did almost twice as much business as normal Wednesday."

"We haven't had many people lining up today," echoed Teresa Triphahn, assistant manger of the Whiting Service Station, two days after the national disaster. "But yesterday (Wednesday) we had quite a few. They weren't lined up, but we were certainly a lot busier than usual."

As for gas prices, "Ours just went down from $1.56 to $1.53 (for unleaded) yesterday," Triphahn said. Over at Payson Marketplace, Lamb said, "Our prices have remained the same since Friday or Saturday of last week. We've been at $1.53, and until we get our next shipment of gas which may come tonight it'll stay at $1.53."

According to the Associated Press and other news agencies, that is a far cry from the gas-pricing story of many refueling stations across the country.

As gas prices and fears of shortages soared Tuesday, there were reported fistfights at stations in several states as motorists raced to get to the pump first. One man, a 78-year-old resident of Topeka, Kan., was arrested for allegedly threatening another gas customer with a pellet gun.

And according to Reuters, some drivers reported watching the posted price change even as they pumped.

"It was unreal," said Ray Lippert, who was heading his 18-wheeler west through Kingman, Ariz., when diesel prices leaped before his eyes at one truck stop.

"I had just pulled into their lot and was getting ready to go to the pump when the wife said, 'Check it out.'" In that short trip to the pump, he said, the per-gallon price jumped from $1.54 to $1.92.

But gas suppliers were backing away from such price hikes by Wednesday.

"We made a dumb decision," Todd Van Zeeland told the Associated Press. A gasoline distributor in Little Chute, Wis., who raised the price of regular unleaded gasoline from $1.69 a gallon to $2.95 Tuesday. Van Zeeland said he would donate the profits to the American Red Cross.

One reason things were getting back to normal by Thursday: Government officials have threatened action against price gougers while attempting to reassure motorists of the nation's "adequate" gasoline supplies.

"There was a little bit of a mass neurosis that swept across some areas of the country (Tuesday)," said Tom Kloza director of Oil Price Information Services, a Lakewood, N.J., a publisher of oil industry data to CNN News. "But there's a little bit less uncertainty now in terms of oil prices."

"There's been no supply disruption to justify such prices," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham of dealers and independent gas-station owners who, in the direct aftermath of the disaster, spiked their pump prices to $5 a gallon or more.

Abraham said the Environmental Protection Agency lifted summer clean air gasoline requirements on Wednesday to avert any supply shortage. The standards, imposed to ease air pollution problems during the summer, had been scheduled to expire Saturday.

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