LONGMONT — Motorists may have noticed gas pumps around town that were “bagged” this week — an orange or red sack fastened over them meant the station was out of that blend of gasoline.
Experts say it’s not that the oil companies don’t have the gas; it’s just that they’re being more picky about who is allowed to get it.
“It’s not so much because of a shortage; it’s so they can get it out on an equitable basis,” said Harold White, a dispatcher with G&S Oil Products in Englewood. G&S is an independent company that acts as a distributor for Conoco and Shell products.
White said that because of contract obligations, “branded” stations will get their gasoline first and “unbranded” stations second.
But even branded stations have to live by their daily rations.
“When you’ve used up your daily output, you can come back (and get more) the next day,” White said.
This week, several stations reported running short of regular unleaded, which is proving to be the most popular choice for drivers since prices began to spike midweek.
At Peerless Tyre Co. on South Main Street, manager Dennis Martin said he’s seen a dramatic dropoff in the availability of fuel he’s able to get for his pumps.
“Actually, they’re rationing gas at the refinery,” Martin said. “Where we as a company used to get 12 loads a day, we’re now getting four loads a day.”
Peerless also owns the U Pump It gas station in Lyons.
Rationing of gasoline by the big oil companies isn’t limited to Colorado. As The Associated Press reported Friday, companies around the country are limiting the amount of fuel available to dealers so there is consistent availability of gas in as many markets as possible.
The fact that this is a busy driving weekend, White said, only exacerbates the issue.
Since Hurricane Katrina hit last weekend, about 1.8 million barrels of oil a day have been taken out of production, which is part of the reason for the dramatic jump in the price of gasoline in the past few days.
While the average in the Denver metro area was $2.19 on Aug. 8, according to AAA-Colorado, by Wednesday it had hit $2.59.
It has seemed to climb every day since then: At many stations in Longmont on Friday, the price was hovering right around the $3-a-gallon mark.
While some relief is coming, with the federal government tapping into its strategic petroleum reserves and the International Energy Agency pledging Friday to send millions of gallons our way, the consensus among experts is that a drop in prices won’t happen overnight.
Martin said he’s not sure how long his supplies will be limited but there’s nothing he can do but put up with it.
And as White points out, Peerless is at somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to being in line for getting the fuel.
“They would be unbranded, and they would probably be having a hard time finding fuel right now,” White said. “A lot of it’s about contracts and being able to get supply under contracts.”
Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291, or by e-mail at email@example.com.