Whether it's outages or high prices, gas issues spawned from Hurricane Ike still are confusing authorities and consumers keeping an eye on their tanks and wallets. Now, more than 70 Georgia gas stations are slated to receive subpoenas from the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs for possible gas price gouging.
Because consumer affairs still is investigating, it's unclear whether Hinesville residents were victims of gas price gouging, but according to Deputy Administrator of Consumer Affairs Anne Infinger, it's a possibility.
"We are still in the process of entering the complaints into our system and having them reviewed by legal. It will probably take the rest of the week to go through all of them," Infinger said. "As of midday yesterday, we had identified over 70 stations that will be receiving subpoenas from our office. At least five of them are in the region that includes Bryan, Chatham, Bulloch, Effingham, Camden, Liberty and Long counties."
Due to the high volume of complaints, Infinger said investigations are not over, making it possible more stations may be added to the list.
"As of close of business on Friday, we received approximately 1,000 price gouging complaints. Chatham County had the highest volume of complaints, just over 40," Infinger said. "70 is not a final number. We are identifying more stations every hour."
Just because many consumers complained, however, doesn't mean illegal price gouging actually occurred.
"We have no way of knowing whether price gouging actually occurred until we receive the subpoenaed information," Infinger said. "Some station owners have told us that they will be able to document that they were only passing on extremely high prices from their suppliers. We will have to wait and see what the stations submit."
Georgia’s price gouging statute prevents retailers from selling goods or services at an unreasonable price, but the statute does not prevent price increases that accurately reflect an increase in the cost of the goods or services to the retailer. A gas station operator is within his or her rights to raise prices after the station’s suppliers raise prices, as long as the governor has not declared a state of emergency.
Randy Bly, director of community relations for AAA Auto Club South, said it's important to remember that the oil refineries are big, complicated systems and will take some time to start running normally. Once the refineries are up and running smoothly again, the shortages and prices should dissipate, according to Bly.
"Seven refineries are still out," Bly said. "In comparison, last week at this time, fourteen refineries were out. It's a very slow process. It's like a giant ship. It takes a long time to make a turn.
"I think by the weekend things will be closer to normal," Bly said, "They may not be all the way back to normal, but they will be headed in that direction. The annoyance and inconvenience should at least lesson."
Bly also reminds consumers that there are a many things contributing to the wild fluctuation of prices and shortages, including “panic buying” and an unstable market.
"It's hard to predict from one day to another," Bly said.
For example, Bly said he was concerned Monday when the price of crude oil experienced the largest one-day increase in history, topping out at $130. But, just as sporadically, they dropped again to $108 Tuesday.