Gasoline prices rose to nearly $5.50 a gallon in parts of Florida on Friday when rumors of a fuel shortage spread across the state.
Motorists in Tallahassee were lined up to pay $5.49 per gallon.
A fuel panic swept Gainesville on Thursday, where long gas lines spilled over onto a busy thoroughfare, tempers flared and the police were called, said Randy Bly, a spokesman for AAA Auto Club South.
A fight broke out in a line at a Gainesville station and prices in Southwest Florida began creeping up.
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The run on gas was prompted by Hurricane Ike and the closing of several large refineries along the Texas-Louisiana coast.
But Agriculture and Consumers Services Commissioner Charlie Bronson responded quickly.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
“There is no fuel shortage in Florida,” Bronson said. “There’s hundreds of millions of gallons available.”
Bronson promised to act quickly to any price gougers.
He said he would subpoena the records of any gas station suspected of price gouging. Violators face a $10,000 fine per violation, up to $25,000 a day. He said retailers can’t raise prices arbitrarily just because they anticipate higher prices in the future.
But, according to Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman Terry McElroy it doesn’t necessarily mean retailers are gouging customers when prices rise wildly.
If wholesale prices justify the increases, there’s not much regulators can do, he said.
Marsha Kut, travel Manager for Lee County AAA, predicted a 20- to 30-cent increase at Lee County pumps.
She said the hike should be short term, lasting a few days to a week.
“We have enough oil,” she said.