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Fears of shortages fueling high gas prices

Retailers say they can't afford drastic cuts, if it means running out, because stations also use gas prices to bring business inside.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gas prices continued to drop, but North Carolina still had the highest gas prices in the lower 48 states, and the Triangle had the highest in the state Saturday.

North Carolina drivers were paying an average of $3.599 for a gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline Saturday morning – 30 cents above the national average, according to a daily monitoring service of AAA, Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.

South Carolinians were paying 21 cents less a gallon than their nothern neighbors, while Virginians were paying 6 cents less than the national average.

Drivers in the Triangle were plunking down $3.698 for a gallon, while those in the Triad and Charlotte also paid above the state average.

Fayetteville motorists were charged around $3.556 a gallon, and Wilmington had the lowest average price at $3.349 a gallon.

North Carolina is still dealing with the fallout from recent tropical weather in the Gulf of Mexico, said Bill Weatherspoon, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council. As long as there are supply concerns, he said, motorists should not expect prices to drop quickly.

If retailers cut prices more quickly than their competitors, they will get swamped by customers and quickly run out of gas, Weatherspoon said. And the customers in those lines rarely spend money inside the store – the main source of stations' profit.

All those factors, Weatherspoon said, mean that retailers cannot afford to make drastic price cuts quickly.

Supplies, though, have been increasing in North Carolina as the oil pipeline from the Gulf Coast has been pumping at full capacity since Sept. 30. No counties or cities were completely out of gasoline as of Tuesday, Gov. Mike Easley said.

"These are very few and far between, now, and generally speaking, the market is pretty well supplied," Weatherspoon said. "We may not be quite back to normal, but we're very close."

However, motorists said the high prices are still frustrating.

"I'm just wondering what's going on and where it's all going," Raleigh motorist Kimberly Brown said. "I mean, they say the pipelines are up and running – why isn't everything coming through like it's supposed to?"


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