Attacks result in uncertainty, panic at the gas pump

By Jim Haley

Herald Writer

Panic gasoline buying forced astronomical prices at the pump in some parts of the country after Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, but the comparatively small increases around here are simply due to the loss of full production at a local refinery, experts said.

Meanwhile, the nation’s largest oil companies froze prices Tuesday and pledged to keep distribution steady as a way to stave off more panic buying.

“Chevron’s prices in effect today will remain until tomorrow,” said Mike Marcy, government and public affairs manager for Chevron Corp. in the Northwest and Northern California.

He’s heard about sudden retail increases in various parts of the country, too.

“All I can do is scratch my head like everybody else and hope it’s just an emotional reaction to an already traumatic event,” Marcy said.

Midwest retailers, apparently worried about the supply, raised prices to the $4-to-$5-a-gallon range, said Bill O’Grady, director of futures research for stock broker A. G. Edwards in St. Louis, Mo.

“It appears to be a couple of things,” O’Grady said. “One is panic by consumers and a system not designed for us to go the gas station all at once.”

The second is uncertainty about whether a Middle East nation, possibly an oil-producing nation, may be somehow involved in the attack.

“We really don’t know at this point who did this,” O’Grady said, and it’s possible the flow of oil could be interrupted if the U.S. retaliates militarily.

“The best advice I could give the consumer now is don’t buy any (gas). High prices will get better in a couple of days,” he said.

A quick survey of service stations in various parts of Snohomish County showed prices for a gallon of regular gas ranging from $1.53 to $1.74 a gallon.

The cost has been creeping up since before the Labor Day holiday.

Those prices have been affected by reduced production at the refinery in Anacortes, said Chuck Worthington, who owns 11 service stations from Renton to Lynnwood.

He said retailers have been allocated only 75 percent of the amount of gas they sold in July, something that could cause some stations to close early.

In addition, the price of regular varies from area to area. Worthington said he pays 16 cents a gallon more at a Bellevue station he owns than one he operates in Lynnwood.

“The rising prices have not been a result of the bombing,” Worthington said.

At the American Automobile Association of Washington, which keeps daily tabs on the cost of motor fuel, spokeswoman Janet Ray in Seattle has heard about a spike in gas prices from all around the state, but won’t have survey information available until sometime today.

If there is a jump, she said she believes it’s a reaction to what happened in New York and Washington, D.C.

“This was an unprecedented event this morning,” Ray said Tuesday. “I think reaction to it may be unprecedented, and people don’t know how to react.”

Whether someone’s taking advantage of a situation or not, customers don’t like the increases.

Eleanor Hoddevik, who works in the Smokey Point area, said one station raised prices up to 26 cents a gallon in that area over 24 hours.

“Everybody’s furious,” she said. “We’re already dealing with a crisis. Do we need price gouging on top of it?”

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail to

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