Gasoline soars amid reported shortages
But experts say any disruptions are bound to be small and short as the industry transitions from winter to summer gas.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Gasoline prices popped above $3 a gallon in more parts of the U.S. this week, amid reports of spot shortages in some markets.
Gas prices shot up three cents on average Friday, to $2.855 for a gallon of regular, according to the motorist organization AAA, which says the average is above $3 a gallon in California, Washington D.C., Hawaii and New York, .
But although there were widespread media reports of shortages, experts say any disruptions are normal, as gas stations make the switch to cleaner-burning summer fuel.
The motorist group AAA said Friday it had received reports of shortages at eight service stations, all in the Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. area.
The reports from AAA followed other media stories Thursday and Friday, some of which quoted a government study saying gasoline terminals in Richmond, Va., as well as the Tidewater area near Virginia Beach - where gasoline is shipped when it comes in from refineries and is transferred to trucks for delivery to gas stations - were experiencing shortages.
The reports said the shortages could cause disruptions along the East Coast as far north as Boston.
But an AAA spokesman in New York said they hadn't received any reports of shortages in that area, and didn't expect any north of the city.
Paul Fiore, a spokesman for the Service Station Dealers of America, also said he hadn't heard any reports of shortages from the groups 10,000 or so members along the East Coast.
The oil industry said problems aren't related to an actual shortage but are being caused from a switch over from winter to summer gas, which is cleaner burning.
Terminals need to nearly empty their tanks to accept supplies of summer gas, which will arrive by May 1, said the American Petroleum Institute's Al Mannato.
Mannato said this switch and the accompanying spot shortages happen every year, "but crude prices are way up, gasoline is way up, so people are watching more this year."
He also said a switch from the gasoline additive MTBE, which has been found to contaminate ground water, to ethanol could be compounding the problem.
Problems with making the switch to ethanol were foreseen.
Making the change is hard because ethanol, unlike MTBE, absorbs water and therefore can't be transported by pipeline, which is how most gasoline moves from refineries to regional markets, Mary Rose Brown, a spokeswoman for the refining company Valero (Research), told CNNMoney.com earlier this week.
So ethanol needs to be transported separately by truck or railcar from the Midwest, where it's produced, to the pipeline terminus, where it's then blended with gasoline as the gas is loaded onto trucks for delivery to gas stations, said Brown.
"We've yet to see how hard it will be, but we will see spot outages," she said, noting that there have already been outages in Dallas and Houston, two other areas that are switching.
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