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12

Rumours spark gasoline panic

Fearing $1 per litre prices, motorists queue around N.S.

Panicked motorists lined up at gas stations around Nova Scotia yesterday after rumours circulated that gas prices were headed up, way up, to about a dollar per litre.

But the head of gas retailer Wilson Fuels said yesterday pump prices are likely to fluctuate, but won?t take any big jumps in gas prices.

?No way, no how,? said Dave Collins, Wilson?s vice-president.

Long queues were reported in Sydney, New Waterford and metro yesterday in the wake of the rumour.

At the Petro-Canada on Main Street in Dartmouth, more than 40 vehicles were lined up at the pumps about 9:30 p.m. An equal number of vehicles had converged down the street at the Esso gas bar.

Across the harbour, the Esso station at Young and Robie streets had a lineup of more than 50 vehicles.

Around 10 p.m., the long lineups sent several police officers to gas stations on Dutch Village Road.

?We got a call that ... motorists are getting frustrated with the (gas) employees for some reason or other,? said Staff Sgt. Scott Burbridge, adding the caller said one station had more than 20 vehicles waiting in line.

Pumping $13 of gas into her car, Dartmouth resident Darlene Henry said was filling up just to be safe.

?We have two cars. We have had both of them filled,? said Henry, adding she heard gas prices would rise to $1.10 per litre today.

Stephen Joseph of Dartmouth also waited in line last night to refuel his car.

The airport worker said he too heard gasoline prices would be jumping to more than $1 per litre.

?I heard someone say it was on the news or something,? he said.

Dartmouth resident Arthur Croft was bringing his wife?s car for a fill-up. Earlier in the evening, he filled his truck?s tank.

?Somebody told me gas was going up over $1 a litre, so I thought I?d fill the tank,? he said.

Croft said he believes gas prices are rising due to last Tuesday?s terrorist attacks in the United States.

Rumours also suggested a huge government tax hike was going to be imposed today, a notion shot down last night by Finance Minister Neil LeBlanc.

?There is no gas tax being planned,? LeBlanc said.

After last Tuesday?s attacks, many analysts expected gas prices to move upwards, at least for the short term.

?There is an old adage in the marketplace that prices go up on fear, but sell on fact,? said Collins.

Wholesale gas prices rose twice earlier this month, but that did not affect pump prices. The self-serve price of regular gas in metro is 74.9 cents at most outlets, slightly lower than in many rural parts of the province and Cape Breton.

The uncertaintly in the world market may mean wholesale fuel prices will rise moderately ? Collins believes a cent or two ? but then prices will likely dip.

?Pump prices likely won?t go up unless somebody?s oil fields get attacked,? he said.

In Cape Breton, consumers did not want to take a chance, and were lining up for gas before prices rose.

?I don?t think the oil companies should take advantage of this situation,? said one motorist, who did not want his name used.

By noon yesterday, rumours of an incipient price hike had spread across most of Sydney, New Waterford and North Sydney.

A worker at the Ultramar Gas Island in Sydney described the pump lines as chaotic, but stressed that no official word on an increase was ordered by Ultramar?s head office, and that pump prices were still at 76.9 cents per litre.

During 1991?s Gulf War, oil prices skyrocketed, but an appeal by then U.S. president George Bush to gas retailers held pump prices to nearly normal limits. There were reports last week of gas stockpiling in the U.S. and huge prices jumps at service stations. Some stations were selling gas at prices more than $1.50 per litre in the U.S.

The New York Mercantile Exchange reopened for online trading Friday, but there were no huge swings in wholesale fuel prices. OPEC, the cartel that controls much of the world?s oil supply, says it does not expect an increase in the price of a barrel of oil and will, in fact, try to stabilize the price.

Collins said U.S. demand for fuel in the next few weeks may actually spur a decrease in pump prices over the next few weeks.

canada.com