Gas shortage worries shadow rising fuel prices

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 7, 2005

The roads might be cleared and the power back on, but residents in the Birmingham area are battling what seems to be the worst effect of Hurricane Katrina’s rampage through the south &045;&045; gas prices and shortages.

Just two weeks ago, experts across the nation were predicting that a price hike in gas would soon subside. But as Katrina grew tirelessly in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 27, those premonitions were quickly silenced.

Now residents across Shelby County and the state of Alabama are faced with long lines at gas stations and limits on how much they can purchase when they arrive at the pump.

&uot;It’s unreal,&uot; Shannon Christy from Alabaster said as she waited in line for gas at the newly opened Wal-Mart station along Interstate 65.

&uot;This is like something you see out of a disaster movie,&uot; she said.

But as hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents will tell you, this is no movie.

Rumors are spreading quickly about gas shortages, leaving many residents wondering how they will make it to work everyday.

&uot;They’re telling us not to worry and to ration our gas,&uot; Terry Clark said on her way home from work Thursday. &uot;But I don’t understand how we can’t be worried. If I don’t have gas, I can’t get to work.&uot;

Clark’s sentiments were felt by drivers across the state who headed to the pump last week, hoping to get enough fuel to last until the rumored shortage subsided.

Gas stations in both Shelby and Jefferson counties reported being low or out of gas last week; but many of those stations received new shipments of gas early Friday.

AAA Alabama public relations manager Clay Ingram said panicking is the worst thing local residents can do in a situation like this.

&uot;We’ve seen a lot of panic-buying,&uot; Ingram said. &uot;This has caused stations across the area to run short or run out of gas. It’s true that our gas supply is going to be short for the next few weeks, but there’s plenty of crude oil available. It’s just a struggle right now to get it refined and delivered because of the storm damage.&uot;

The Gulf Coast is home to 40 percent of the nation’s oil refineries, and two major pipelines that provide fuel to the Southwest U.S. were heavily damaged by Katrina.

&uot;What people have to understand is that there is gas being delivered,&uot; Ingram said. &uot;But this is new territory for us as far as the storm damage. We can’t predict how far gas prices will rise and how long it will take for supplies to return to normal.&uot;

Alabama state troopers reported Thursday that gas was scarce or unavailable south of mile marker 57 on Interstate 65 and throughout many areas of southwest Alabama.

The report encouraged motorists to fuel up well in advance to avoid possibly running out of fuel once they traveled further south.

Residents were urged to avoid driving over the Labor Day weekend, a holiday that is known for its weekend family trips and mini-vacations.

Ingram said in order to curb the skyrocketing prices and the fears of fuel shortages, Alabama drivers would have to take it on themselves to be more conservative with their fuel consumption.

&uot;The general public is in control of the prices right now,&uot; he said.

Local drivers have been filling up more than their cars lately, with many people loading up extra fuel containers.

Ingram said he had even received reports of a person who tried to fill up trash cans with gasoline which, he said, is illegal.

&uot;That’s is the worst possible thing we can do right now,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to do the opposite and conserve our gas usage. That will take the pressure off the oil industry so they can recover, and it will also help gas prices come down.&uot;