Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday the state has plenty of gasoline. But the price for regular unleaded in Greater Waco has jumped 23 cents the past week, and a convenience store in Houston allegedly was demanding $20 a gallon for gas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
With the arrival of Labor Day weekend, gasoline prices statewide averaged $2.36 a gallon on Friday, up from $2.26 on Thursday, AAA Texas spokesman Daniel Armbruster said.
There have also been unconfirmed reports of price gouging in Austin and Dallas and warnings by Attorney General Dan Patrick that his office will go after businesses seeking to take advantage of victims of the natural disaster.
“I’ve heard reports of one place in Dallas trying to charge $7 a gallon and one in Austin charging more than $4,” Armbruster said. “In both cases, I’m told it was a case of employee error regarding the posting of prices.”
Locally, Waco motorists faced an average of $2.29 for a gallon of regular unleaded, up from $2.06 a week earlier, according to GasBuddy.com. A year ago, local residents were making holiday travel plans having to budget only $1.99 a gallon for gasoline.
Waco resident Jessica Grigsby said the Valero convenience store she patronizes at North 19th Street and Lake Shore Drive had increased its price from $2.09 on Monday to $2.39 on Friday.
Grigsby said the 30-cent increase struck her as excessive.
“I know price gouging is a problem with natural disasters, so I wanted to call attention to it,” she wrote in an email.
The Texas Attorney General’s website said gouging means selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price, particularly after a disaster is declared by the governor. But the site does not identify a tipping point at which the cost of doing business, including during emergencies, becomes excessive.
Valero’s corporate office has not returned calls seeking comment on its fuel prices. Earlier this week, eight Valero-branded stores in Greater Waco said they were without gasoline all or part of the previous weekend. An employee of one location said he had no answer at the time for customers who inquired about when service would resume.
“The entire petroleum distribution chain has been challenged with meeting an increased demand for gasoline and diesel during a time when fuel distribution and supply is strained,” Paul Hardin, president of the Texas Food & Fuel Association, wrote in a statement Friday.
Hardin said supply will vary by location, and consumers are likely to see some gas stations without fuel.
“There is no master list of gas stations that are out of fuel,” he said.
The Texas Comptroller’s Office said Friday it has suspended certain requirements for motor vehicles engaged in interstate disaster relief. Comptroller Glenn Hegar said he hopes this move “makes it easier to get needed fuel and relief supplies into the state so that Texans can receive the help they need as soon as possible.”
The Comptroller’s Office will issue expedited licenses to motor fuel distributors, importers and transporters until Sept. 30. It will also waive bond requirements for distributors and importers, according to a press release.
The Office of the Governor has issued a temporary waiver of the International Fuel Tax Agreement, which will suspend requirements for trucking firms to pay tax on the amount of fuel they use in Texas when delivering relief supplies and fuel into the state.
“I can tell you that up here in Dallas there is a challenge to finding gasoline,” AAA’s Armbruster said after a trip from Austin to the Dallas area Friday with a stop in Waco. “Austin is having a little trouble, but I encountered no problems in Waco, though relatives have told me about stations there running out of fuel.”
Armbruster said the scattered fuel shortages are coming when the nation is enjoying record levels of gasoline inventory.
“The problem is with logistics, getting the product from one location to another,” he said. “Aggravating the situation is people panicking and topping off their tanks because they fear not having access to fuel.”
Gas prices locally continue to represent bargains compared to those nationally, according to GasBuddy.com. It reported a national average of $2.56 a gallon Friday, up from $2.35 a week earlier.
Prices in Greater Waco late Friday afternoon ranged from $2.12 at the Stripes store at South Valley Mills Drive and Clay Avenue to $2.49 at several Chevron locations.
South Waco appeared to have the lowest prices in the area, as the Stripes on Franklin Avenue and at New Road and Bagby Avenue, the Murphy USA at New Road and Franklin Avenue, and the H-E-B and RaceWay locations on South Valley Mills Drive all were charging $2.15 for regular unleaded, according to figures provided by GasBuddy.com.