Such was the near-panicked reaction as Hurricane Ike sauntered through the Gulf of Mexico, threatening oil rigs and refineries that provide this nation with as much as 20 percent of our gasoline.
In Robeson County, the cost of a gallon of gasoline rose throughout the day, and some motorists were limited to no more than 10 gallons. Others were not as lucky, as their hours-long wait wasn’t rewarded when pumps ran dry.
All this left people wondering how stores that purchased the gasoline at a wholesale price in effect before Ike entered the Gulf could keep increasing the retail price. It’s a good question — and one that needs to be answered.
We won’t pretend to understand all the elements that determine the cost of a gallon of gasoline. There is certainly supply and demand, which appeared to be in full bloom on Friday. And there is growing evidence that speculators, who try to make their dime off anticipating the price of a barrel of oil, have artificially inflated prices.
But on Friday, as the price of a barrel of oil headed southward, briefly dropping below $100 for the first time in a long time, gasoline prices were headed northward.
Gov. Mike Easley, saying that per-gallon gasoline prices should not rise more than 20 cents, declared a state of “abnormal market disruption” and signed an order allowing Attorney General Roy Cooper to enforce North Carolina’s anti-gouging law, which forbids the charging of prices that are unreasonably excessive under the current circumstances. To report suspected gouging, call the Attorney General’s Office at (877) 5-NO-SCAM.
If laws are being broken, then justice should be easy and swift. After all, the evidence is right there, on the marquee in front of the store.
In the coming days, more information will emerge on the severity of the blow to our nation’s oil supply. And remember, motorists aren’t totally helpless in this fight. We have the options, including walking more and driving less.
Also, the next time you are cursing the pump while filling up the car, remember those residents in Texas who suffered a much worse fate at the hands of Ike. They would give dearly to be concerned about the price of a gallon of gasoline.