Gasoline prices continue to rise throughout U.S.

Brad Foss: The Associated Press

Gasoline prices leaped nationwide Wednesday as key refineries and pipelines remained crippled by Hurricane Katrina, crimping supplies and leading to caps on the amount of fuel delivered to retailers.

Wednesday in Portales, gas prices averaged $2.75 per gallon for regular unleaded.

Javier Gomez filled up his truck at the Town and Country on North Chicago Avenue.

“It’s getting scary,” he said about the recent jumps in pricing.

Heather Buxton, a student at Eastern New Mexico University, said she couldn’t believe how high the prices have gotten.

“I think the prices are too high,” she said. “I paid $2.75 per gallon. It costs nearly $42 to fill my car up compared to $28 to $30 before the prices went up.”

To boost supplies, the U.S. government said it would loan oil to refiners facing shortfalls and relax environmental restrictions on the type of gasoline sold during summer. Crude futures prices fell but remained close to $69 a barrel.

Just how bad the situation becomes for motorists, who are facing pump prices in excess of $3 a gallon in a growing number of markets, depends on how quickly electricity can be restored to Gulf Coast pipelines and refineries, analysts said. Flooding may have left some important refinery equipment submerged and it will be days before a full damage assessment is completed, industry officials and analysts said.

Some rays of hope emerged Wednesday. The Colonial Pipeline Co. said it would restore partial service with help from diesel generators that will allow it to begin shipping gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel from Houston to markets up and down the East Coast. A Transportation Department spokesman said Wednesday the Plantation Pipe Line Co. would restore partial service on its East Coast lines Wednesday night as well and that both companies expected to be fully operational by late Thursday.

Similarly, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, through which 10 percent of all U.S. oil imports flow, said generators would enable it to gradually resume partial service.

“Every little bit is going to help,” said oil analyst John Kilduff at Fimat USA in New York.

A significant amount of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico remains shut and reports of banged-up platforms and missing rigs continued to trickle in as companies conducted aerial inspections of offshore facilities.

Onshore, wholesale gasoline suppliers have begun capping the amount of fuel they sell to retailers in certain markets to make sure retailers do not take delivery of more fuel than they actually need. Analysts said that while shortages have been reported in a small number of markets, they do not believe the problem is widespread and they cautioned motorists not to top off tanks out of fear.

With retail gasoline prices surging, BP PLC said in an e-mail to clients that it is making “pricing decisions with prudence and restraint in the wake of this natural disaster.”

Light sweet crude for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 87 cents to settle at $68.94 a barrel, down from an overnight high of $70.65. On Tuesday, oil futures settled at $69.81, the highest closing price on Nymex since trading began in 1983, although still below the inflation-adjusted high of about $90 a barrel that was set in 1980.

October gasoline futures surged as high as $2.92 a gallon on Nymex and settled at $2.6145 per gallon, an increase of 14 cents. That is 35 percent higher than they were on Friday.

“There’s too much uncertainty,” said Kilduff said.

PNT staff writer Leslie Spence contributed to this report