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Hurricane Katrina

Drivers race rising gas costs

While prices creep up, local motorists bound to beat even greater hikes.

By LOUIS HAU, STEVE HUETTEL and JONI JAMES
Published August 31, 2005


With Hurricane Katrina causing oil prices to jump, some area motorists headed for local gas stations Tuesday to beat anticipated price hikes at the pump.

Katrina was on the mind of 49-year-old Tampa homemaker Terrie Weibley as she filled the tank of her silver Mercedes-Benz sedan at a Gas Kwick station at the corner of Henderson Boulevard and S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

Although Weibley still had half a tank of gas left, reports of a Katrina-linked rise in oil prices prompted her to top off.

"I just want to be a wise consumer," she said.

She's not alone. Spot checks Tuesday of some Tampa Bay area gas stations showed price bumps under way for regular gas from $2.58 or so per gallon to the $2.65-$2.67 range at many locations. The Mobil station on Dr. Martin Luther King Street and 22nd Avenue N in St. Petersburg went from $2.59 for regular unleaded Monday night to $2.66 Tuesday.

The nagging concern is that gas prices that are creeping up by a nickel or more now will start to rise more rapidly in the coming days as details of Katrina's damage to Gulf of Mexico oil production becomes clear.

"It could be several days before we can say supplies might tighten up," said David Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council, which represents major oil company wholesalers and retailers. "There's a nervous tension in the whole system."

Everyone's got their eye on $3 gas, even as state leaders in Tallahassee continued to urge drivers not to top off tanks or drive more than is necessary.

"Fuel supply is no longer an issue just for Floridians, but a regional one," Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings told a Tallahassee news briefing. "You don't need to make unnecessary or idle trips."

Colleen Castille, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said fuel companies already expect they will need to bring fuel in from the Philadelphia area and from additional sources in the North Sea.

Some wholesalers raised prices to retailers purchasing gasoline without contracts by as much as 45 cents per gallon since Monday, said Jim Smith of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

But most wholesalers have "exercised restraint," he said, as vessels continued to arrive with fuel at the state's major petroleum ports in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville.

The key to prices is how soon offshore oil platforms, refineries and marine terminals in Louisiana and Mississippi can get back into service. Initial reports indicate Katrina delivered an extensive blow to oil production and refineries around the Gulf of Mexico.

On the other hand, President Bush may decide to tap into the nation's strategic oil reserve, easing pressure on supplies.

In the meantime, drivers are edgy.

Doug Roblin was purchasing a lottery ticket Tuesday at the Circle K gas station on S West Shore Boulevard near W Flamingo Road in Tampa when a clerk warned him that gas prices might rise soon.

That prompted Roblin to drive home and bring back a 6-gallon plastic gas container for his boat. The 53-year-old commercial fisherman filled the container and topped off the tank of his Dodge pickup truck.

Roblin said he was skeptical that the damage caused by Katrina demanded a rise in gasoline prices.

"Big business is using this to pump up prices," he said.

Times staff writers contributed to this report.

[Last modified August 31, 2005, 01:23:10]


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