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Gas shortage leaves motorists fuming
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Forsyth County News

out of gas slideshow

Tempers were beginning to fray as drivers went from station to station searching for gas on Monday.

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Gas is priced under $4 a gallon again. Now, it’s just finding a gallon of gas that’s proving difficult.

Throughout Forsyth County and Northeast Georgia, pump handles have been going into plastic bags instead of gas tanks.
Hussainali Husseini, owner of a Shell station on Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Cumming, received a new supply of fuel Monday morning. By 3 p.m., it was sold out.

The 9,000-gallon shipment usually lasts him about three days, sometimes longer. With the current situation, however, it didn't last a day.

“Without gas we are helpless," Husseini said. "More than 50 percent of people do not come inside for a bottle of water or drinks or anything."

The gas shortage stems from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which forced refineries on the Gulf Coast to shut down.

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report, citing a 20 percent loss in U.S. refining capacity. The report showed supplies were the lowest since 1967.

Even with low supplies, however, gas still was being shipped to stations before, during and after the hurricane. The problem has been public perception.

Before the hurricanes, consumers were rushing gas stations in anticipation of a shortage. The surge in purchases led to a price increase and a supply decrease, said Gregg Laskoski, AAA Auto Club South spokesman.

“To some extent, consumers are exasperating the issue because they’re topping off their tanks when they have … a half a tank or more,” he said.

“What it does is it creates a run on the gas, it depletes the available supply prematurely and it makes it very difficult for retailers to schedule accordingly.”

Gas prices also are lower than last week, when some stations reportedly were charging $5 a gallon or more.

But Georgia’s current average of $3.97 a gallon is still higher than the $3.73 national average, a difference that is usually reversed.

In 2007, the national gas average was $2.78, while Georgia’s average was nearly a dime less, at $2.69 a gallon.

Supplies are still stretched thin, though the situation is likely to improve by the end of the week, Laskoski said. As supplies are replenished, demand will fade.

“The Department of Energy said that generally when a refinery closes, it takes anywhere from six to 14 days for it to be back to being fully operational,” Laskoski said.

“We’re still in that time frame.”

In the meantime, that's little consolation to station owners.

Once Monday's shipment was gone, Husseini said he would not receive more until Thursday, despite having placed another order.

Two days without gas angered customers last week. That mind-set has since changed.

“Now, they know the situation,” he said. “But last week, the first time we were out, plenty of people were angry, because they think it’s our fault.”

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an executive order Sept. 12 activating Georgia’s price-gouging statute in an effort to thwart unlawful increases in gas prices and other products. Unless the executive order declaring a state of emergency is rescinded or extended, it will last for 30 days.

By Monday, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs had received 1,000 complaints of price gouging from across the state, spokesman Shawn Conroy said.

Already, the office has issued subpoenas to 15 convenience stores they believe have increased gas prices unlawfully. That does not mean there will not be more as investigators as the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs sort through the complaints, Conroy said.

"For this all to play out as far as investigations and settlements, it takes a few weeks for it to work out," Conroy said.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the office negotiated between 70 and 80 settlements with various gas stations across the state, Conroy said.

"Only time will tell if that’s going to be the scope of this situation," he said.

Ashley Fielding of the FCN regional staff contributed to this report.