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Gas prices still on a rise in metro Atlanta

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Gas stations across metro Atlanta are quickly running out of gas - and not necessarily due to reduced supplies from refineries along the Gulf Coast.

"The gas is spiking so much, because everybody is panicking over it," said Tasha Lovelady, assistant manager at Murphy USA at Hudson bridge Road in Stockbridge.

Going into Monday, the gas station temporarily ran out of premium gas, which was priced at the same amount as regular unleaded to help save the station's regular unleaded inventory. Some consumers in the Southeast region have been buying gas at extraordinary rates and retailers and gas stations are unable to keep up with the demand.

"The only thing I can say about it is that customers [need to] relax," Lovelady said. "When our gas goes down, nobody's buying. But when [gas prices are] up, everybody's buying. If people would just calm down and not buy it during the gas spikes, we'd have more available at less cost."

Georgians are seeing average prices skyrocket past record highs set earlier this summer. In the wake of Hurricane Ike's landfall in Texas, prices have jumped several cents each day.

According to the American Automobile Association, the state's average per-gallon price for regular unleaded is the fourth-highest of any state in the nation, following Michigan, Hawaii, and Alaska.

On Monday, metro Atlanta set a new record average high of $4.11 per gallon for regular unleaded, up a penny from its previous record set in mid-July. Atlanta has faired well, however, compared to other areas of the state, such as Augusta and Albany, which saw record per-gallon prices of $4.39 and $4.30 respectively.

Gas price averages began increasing substantially across the Southeast late last week, due to Ike and spikes in wholesale prices, based largely on fears of what the storm might do.

"Retail fuel prices have risen over the past few days due to lost refinery capacity as a result of Ike, and the uncertainty of the amount of damage the refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast may sustain. However, early reports on damage are positive," said Randy Bly, spokesman with AAA Auto Club South.

The Houston-Galveston area is the largest oil refining complex in the nation, and the entire Texas Gulf Coast is home to several clusters of oil refineries.

On Sunday, the Minerals Management Service reported that 1.3 million barrels per day - nearly 100 percent - of the federal portion of the Gulf of Mexico's crude oil production had been shut in. Still, oil prices remained well below the levels hit before Hurricane Gustav made landfall two weeks ago. Oil closed at about $100 per barrel going into last weekend on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

"We would not recommend rushing out to the gas station to fill up your car," said Tancred Lidderdale, spokesman for the Energy Information Administration.

The government has increased imports by bringing in gasoline from other countries in Europe and the far East. It has released about 309 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and other refineries in the country to help off-set the deficit in production from Gulf Coast refineries.

"Normally, in September, we would expect gasoline imports to fall," Lidderdale said. "Gasoline imports increased by 250,000 barrels in August to make up for the loss of production in the U.S."

"The multi-million dollar question is how high will retail gasoline prices go,and how long will the supply problems persist," said Bly with AAA Auto Club South. "Nevertheless, with over 14 major refineries in this region being shuttered since Thursday, there will be supply issues and the best guess estimate as to when they will be able to come back on line is sometime late this week or early next week."

He urges motorists not to "panic buy" gasoline and top off tanks or fill multiple containers of gas.

"We will most certainly see more retail gasoline price increases in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee this week and continue to see spot outages," Bly said. "Bagged gasoline pump nozzles will not be a rare site."

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The Associated Press contributed to this article.