09/18/05 — Price patrol: Keep an eye on oil industry practices

View Archive

Price patrol: Keep an eye on oil industry practices

Perhaps there is a real reason to justify the fact that gas prices have stalled at about $2.97 a gallon. Perhaps there really is a shortage and the delivery limitations caused by Hurricane Katrina really are making it tougher to meet expenses, and therefore, the product should cost more.

But, somehow, it all seems just a little too hard to believe completely. After all, prices sure shot up quickly when the hurricane first hit. There wasn’t a shortage when the storm started — supplies were already in. Why so fast a price increase?

It is an unfortunate fact that sometimes industries take advantage of a tragedy or other setback to squeeze a few more cents into the profit column. It is called price-gouging, and it is illegal during a time of emergency.

Judging the petroleum industry’s price shifts is an exercise in subjectivity. There are legitimate factors that can influence price increases — especially when consumers don’t listen to reason and rush to fill up their gas tanks just because they heard there might be a gas shortage. The price of oil, the war in Iraq, the supply constraints, all those factors could be used as a legitimate reason to justify a price hike. Market demand vs. supply is also a big factor in how much you will pay at the pumps.

And Katrina is a good reason, too, for now.

About this time last year, many of us were complaining that the price of gas had shot up to $1.80. Who would have thought a year later we would be a little relieved to see it go below $3, and hope to see it closer to $2?

Watching the oil and petroleum industries is a good idea. It is a good way to keep the price-setters honest. And that need to watch is just as important when it comes to local dealers, too. We need to keep an eye on what it costs for a gallon of gas in Wayne County vs. what you would pay 30 miles up or down the road.

And if we find the oil companies have been a little too quick with their hikes, and a little too slow with their cuts, we need to take action against the offenders.

And then, perhaps we could think a little bit more about how we as a nation could use a little less gas. It wouldn’t hurt Americans to start thinking a little bit more about conservation rather than how much gas they can guzzle.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have reduced our trips in the car to save money. Now, it is time to see if some of those trips can stay cut.

Cutting back will help the nation in many ways, and it wouldn’t hurt the environment, either.

Perhaps this could be a bit of a wake-up call.

Published in Editorials on September 18, 2005 12:14 AM