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Follow the bouncing prices

It’s been nearly a week since Hurricane Ike pounded the Gulf Coast.

But motorists around the country are still experiencing spiking gas costs created by the temporary shutdown of the oil refineries that provide an estimated 25 percent of the nation’s fuel.

“We are getting gas back in the pipeline,” said Georjeane Blumling, spokeswoman for AAA of Tidewater. “But we’re looking at potentially another 10 days to two weeks before the supplies are back to where they were prior to Ike.

“Like the rest of the country, fuel prices in Suffolk seem to be bouncing up and down a wide spectrum.

One could go to Murphy USA, the station outside Wal-Mart in downtown Suffolk, and fill up for $3.75 or head across the street in either direction – Supreme or Southern convenience stores – where regular fuel was selling for $3.69 per gallon.

Most of the stations along the more heavily traveled Holland Road, including Exxon and Miller Mart, were selling regular for $3.79 a gallon Friday. Wilco was charging six cents less per gallon – $3.73 – at the same time.

When it comes to prices, local fuel suppliers and distributors say they too are feeling the pinch of the volatile market – though on a much larger scale. As the available fuel supply has begun to dwindle, their suppliers have been reducing the amount of gasoline they receive.

“The market is disrupted right now … with supplies and prices,” said David Holland, president of Southern Oil Co. “For a while, we didn’t know from one hour to the next (how much we would be paying per gallon.)

“Our suppliers are all over the board with prices – some are as much as $1 a gallon more than others – and we are on allocations with our suppliers. One supplier had cut us off and has just now come back on stream and giving us limited supplies.”

Corey Russell, vice president of Supreme Petroleum, which owns or distributes fuel to upwards of 30 stations in Western Tidewater, said his company has been charged as much as $5 per gallon for fuel in recent days.

“It’s been difficult for us to keep our own stations supplied,” said Russell, adding that his company owns six convenience stores in Suffolk. For a couple of days, several station owners “bagged up their gas pumps” rather than stock fuel because of the high prices, he said.

Nonetheless, Hampton Roads is faring much better than southwestern Virginia, where a significant number of stations are running out of fuel, Holland said. That region is served entirely by pipeline, whereas Hampton Roads’ market has at least part of its fuel sources brought into the ports by barge.

To increase gasoline supplies in Virginia, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has waived certain specifications to allow for the immediate distribution of gasoline blends that would normally not be allowed until Oct. 1.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has received more than 2,300 calls about possible price gouging since Hurricane Ike, said spokeswoman Marion Horsley. A team of more than 30 investigators is looking into the allegations, she said.