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A rush to the gas pump
By Tim Pugmire
Minnesota Public Radio
September 12, 2001
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Concerned motorists were lining up to fill their tanks Tuesday night at service stations throughout Minnesota. Many people feared a big price jump after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast, and a few station owners were apparently taking advantage of those fears. The state's commerce commissioner says there is no shortage of gasoline in the state, and motorists should remain calm.

Motorists in St. Joseph line up for gas Tuesday night. Most drivers said they heard gas prices were on the rise because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. Some gas stations in the state raised their prices to $3 and $4 per gallon.
(MPR Photo/Tim Post)
AT THE SUPERAMERICA STATION IN ST. JOSEPH, THE GAS PUMPS were running constantly and cars were lined up down the street. Travis Baker of St. Cloud stood by as his girlfriend filled her tank at a $1.64 per gallon.

"My girlfriend wanted to get gas, because everyone else is. She heard gas prices were going to go up. We were shopping and somebody said it was going to go up to like $5 a gallon. I think it's supply and demand - everyone jumps to get gas right away, so it's gotta go up," Baker said.

Similar rumors of pending price hikes, along with uncertainty over the impact of Tuesday's terrorist attacks, fueled a gas-buying frenzy felt throughout the country. As cars backed up, some station owners were raising prices. Kristen Burke was waiting in line at an Amoco station on St. Paul's East Side, where the price of gasoline was $2.99 per gallon.

"My major concern is that I have a quarter of a tank of gas and in the last hour I saw gas prices raised more than $1, and that tomorrow I won't be able to afford it if it goes any higher," Burke said.

But state officials say such concerns are unfounded, and the sharp price jumps unnecessary. Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Jim Bernstein says he's surprised by the public fear. He says despite rumors to the contrary, the state's gas supply is not in danger. Bernstein says motorists must remain calm.

"We have lots of inventory. Gas stocks are fine. The price of crude did go up today and we might see a 5-cents to 20-cents increase over the next several weeks," says Bernstein. "But this kind of rushing out and filling up of tanks, this thing has to stop, and there's no reason for Minnesotans to do this."

Bernstein says there is no law limiting gas prices, but he's strongly urging the station owners not to exploit the situation. He says the best way to control pump prices is for motorists to control their fear.

"When you have lines going around the block - as a number of stations do in the metro and even in greater Minnesota - it gives retailers the opportunity to run the prices up," Bernstein said. "They're simply responding to the fact that if people are willing to pay $4 for a gallon of gasoline, some retailers are going to do that."

Bernstein says the Commerce Department will monitor gas prices in the coming days to see how widespread the increases might be.