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Crist says there's no reason to panic over gas

ST. PETERSBURG — As some gas stations around the Tampa Bay area ran out of fuel and others raised prices, Gov. Charlie Crist tried to reassure Floridians that there is plenty of gas.

At a Saturday morning press conference, Crist estimated that Florida has more fuel than usual in anticipation of Hurricane Ike. He said Florida's ports have 185-million gallons in addition to what's now at gas stations. He urged retailers to stop any price gouging.

"I want Floridians to realize there's no need to panic and there's no need to buy fuel lest it be a self-fulfilling prophecy," Crist said.

Fuel price reports by AAA showed that the price of regular unleaded gas in the Tampa Bay area averaged $3.677 a gallon on Saturday, a more than 5-cent increase over the day before. That's still much lower than the area's all-time high of $4 in July.

Geoff Sundstrom, AAA's fuel price analyst in Orlando, said Ike disrupted supply at the wholesale level on the Gulf Coast, where prices hit $4.85 a gallon Friday. The storm shut down 14 Texas refineries with a total capacity of 3.8-million barrels of crude a day.

Retail prices for gas may not reach as high as wholesale, with anti-gouging laws in some states kicking into effect, Sundstrom said.

Gas stations have long-term price contracts with oil companies. There could be instances where gas stations on the same street have big disparities in price because of the price they paid for fuel, he said.

People around the bay area were buying up gas despite the governor's assurances.

Kathleen Hernandez, a 40-year-old hairstylist from South Tampa, got a call from her mother-in-law Saturday morning warning her of the gas scare. Hernandez immediately headed to a Mobil station on Dale Mabry Highway and Cypress Street where all 12 taps were out of regular grade unleaded.

"I'm concerned about having to pay for premium," she said as she filled her car at $3.89 a gallon.

In St. Petersburg, two busy gas stations at the intersection of 22nd Avenue and 28th Street N, a RaceTrac and a Citgo, had run out of regular and midgrade fuel by noon.

Crist said he had no trouble filling up his car on Saturday and paid $3.67 for regular. Nearby, he noticed a tanker filling up the station's tanks. Most of Florida's fuel does not come from pipelines in Texas, he said. It comes into Florida's ports from other areas.

"There's no shortage," he said. "There's plenty of fuel."

Crist said the state has received 261 complaints of gas station price gouging, mostly in northern Florida but also in Central Florida. He called reports of one gas station in Tallahassee charging $5.59 a gallon "outrageous."

"When you see gas stations charging over $5 a gallon, that's unconscionable and it will not be tolerated," Crist said.

He urged Floridians who observe suspected price gouging to call 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-866-966-7226.

Times Staff Writers Dong-Phuong Nguyen and Cristina Silva contributed to this report, which included information from the Associated Press.

Crist says there's no reason to panic over gas 09/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 13, 2008 11:14pm]
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