9/12/01: Drivers fill up after rumors of soaring prices

9/12/01: Drivers fill up after rumors of soaring prices

This story originally appeared on Sept. 12, 2001.

Nationwide rumors of skyrocketing gas prices some of more than $4 a gallon hit the Champaign-Urbana area Tuesday in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The rumors remain just that locally, but Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan has received reports of price gouging in southern and central Illinois, according to Ryan's press secretary, Dan Curry.

He said Ryan had sent teams of investigators to look into the reports.

As gasoline wholesalers and retailers quickly raised prices, the nation's largest oil companies immediately tried to allay consumers' worries by freezing their prices and pledging to keep distribution steady.

Panic caused by rumors of a pending gasoline shortage sent prices skyrocketing in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Michigan and other states.

The R and L Texaco in Oklahoma City increased the price of unleaded gasoline to $5 a gallon after a supplier told owner Lewis Pfenninger it was unclear when the next shipment would be available and at what price.

At the Sunshine Conoco in Springfield, Mo., gas prices were raised 40 cents after the attacks to $1.99 a gallon.

Exxon Mobil and BP sought to calm energy markets.

The two oil companies said supplies would not be hampered except around New York City. The companies tried to reassure consumers that there was no need to stockpile gasoline.

Locally, gas stations were jammed with motorists waiting to fill up, or top off the tanks of their vehicles.

It's a panic that one University of Illinois professor compared to the public's reaction to the Gulf War. And it left some gas stations close to running out, while other stations needed help directing traffic to keep vehicles from overflowing onto busy streets.

A survey of gas stations late Tuesday afternoon in Champaign County had prices ranging from $1.76 to $1.99 for a gallon of unleaded. The latter is a 20-cent jump from earlier in the day.

In Vermilion County, prices at stations along Illinois 1 from Danville to Georgetown ranged from $1.77 for regular unleaded to $2.19 for super.

It's not clear where the rumor of $4 a gallon came from but it spread quickly. The Internet was filled with postings of rumors of $5 a gallon in Indiana, and that other states would soon follow suit.

Lines spilled into the streets in Danville, Tilton, Westville and Georgetown. Police were directing traffic to keep cars from blocking intersections.

Suppliers of fuel to gas stations in East Central Illinois were encouraging people not to panic-buy gasoline.

Mike Lanman of Lanman Oil Co. Inc., which supplies farmers and gas stations in eastern and southern Illinois with fuel, said people need to pull together and remain calm.

"Panic buying could trigger a shortage," said Lanman, whose main office in Charleston had been swamped most of the afternoon with calls from regular buyers and some people he had never heard from previously, wanting to purchase fuel.

He said there is no shortage, but if people panic-buy and hoard it in cans and containers, it could create a problem.

He said many of his drivers were unable to even get into stations to deliver fuel later on Tuesday, because every station was jammed with vehicles waiting in lines. Many drivers had to be assisted by police officers, he said, to clear the stations so they could fill the station tanks. Police even had reports of customers fighting and getting angry at attendants, Lanman said.

As far as a shortage, Lanman said his company purchases fuel from three refineries, two in Illinois and one in Indianapolis, and none of them are reporting any kind of shortages. But if panic-buying continues this week, he said, it could cause the exact shortage people fear.

The Bigfoot Amoco at 601 N. Neil St., C, which increased prices 22 cents, still had at least 20 cars jammed in its parking lot at 5 p.m.

In Rantoul, it was four times the problem.

More than 80 people waited their turn at the pumps at the Mobil Super Pantry on Maplewood Drive, forcing traffic across the Maple Grove Shopping Center parking lot.

"This is all panic," said George Deltas, a professor specializing in business behavior and the oil industry.

"It's in the same spirit when the Gulf War was going on and people go to the supermarket" and stock up on nonperishable items, he said.

"Then there was much more of a likelihood that the price of oil would be disrupted," since the Middle East is a major producer of oil, he said.

He said this is far from an economic issue. "I am personally not going out to fill up my gas tank because of this," he said.

Others shouldn't either, he said.

For some gas station owners, it's a question of whether to follow suit with other stations that are increasing prices.

Dorothy Collins, owner of three Collins Oil Co. stations in Champaign-Urbana, said she decided to leave prices alone, until at least this morning. She was seeing long lines at all her stations.

"So far, Collins Oil hasn't budged, and I'm not going to until I see what happens to the wholesale price," she said.

But prices at the Collins station on South Neil Street in Champaign were up by 6:45 a.m. today, at $1.99 for regular.

Beth Carrell, assistant manager at Freedom Oil at 1202 N. Mattis Ave., C, said her station raised prices Tuesday to $1.99 per gallon for regular.

"They already went up today," she said. "They could go up again today."

Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, said he was already in contact Tuesday with Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson about what actions the state and federal government could take to possibly prevent and penalize price gouging by gasoline stations and any other private businesses that may take advantage of consumers in this situation.

"This country needs to relax," he said. "We've been through worse and came out all right."

 

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