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Price mistake sparks gasoline panic in Calgary

92.9 cents a litre: Thousands race to pumps in hopes of saving a few dollars

Carol Harrington The Canadian Press CALGARY - Fears of a massive price increase for gasoline -- partly sparked by a mistaken posting of 92.9 cents a litre at one station, but mostly fuelled by rumours -- had Calgary motorists lining up at the gas pumps Friday.

"It sure sent the city into a spin," said Fred Crane, owner of Lakeside Shell.

"I've been here for 20 years and I've never seen anything like it before.

"Cars are lined up out to the street right now."

The panic began late Thursday afternoon, when the rumour mill churned talk of gas prices leaping from 78.5 cents a litre to the mid-90-cent range. The buzz was that gas prices leaped in Edmonton, then skyrocketed in Lethbridge.

A young gas jockey at Crane's Shell station got pumped up, and hiked his prices to 92.9 for two hours Thursday night.

"He got all tied up in the excitement and made a call that wasn't the right one," Mr. Crane said.

For the next day, thousands of Calgarians raced to the pumps to fuel up in hopes of saving a few bucks.

"I think it's ridiculous," Heleen Budnyk said while waiting in line to fill up at 78.5 cents a litre. "We have so much gas in Alberta, so why should we pay so much?"

An Exxon station in Red Deer jumped into the fray by boosting prices Friday morning to 93.3 cents a litre while its competitors sold gas for as low as 75.5 cents.

"It's scary, I can't afford to drive this car any more," said Mavis Pullman .

"I can never understand this gas thing -- up and down, up and down."

Oil company officials say they don't foresee a price hike in the near future.

"All market indications make it extremely unlikely that you'd see price hikes anywhere near the magnitude of the rumours that are circulating," said Chris Dawson, a spokesman for Petro-Canada.

Increased demand and tight supplies of oil throughout the world have prompted gasoline prices throughout Canada to peak.

"It's the market in action," Mr. Dawson said.

But some angry motorists think oil companies have become extremely greedy.

"They are gouging like crazy," Kevin Klepachek said while filling up his vehicle.

"They have us over a barrel and are making record profits."

To apologize to customers for temporarily hiking gas to 92.9 cents a litre, Crane's sold gas for 76.9 cents -- two cents below the average Calgary price.

Some motorists were filling plastic containers with gas -- a reminder of the energy crisis of the 1970s, when desperate Americans lined up at pumps for hours to fill their tanks and plastic milk jugs.

"Anything they can carry gas in, they're filling it up," said an assistant manager at a Shell station in northwest Calgary.

Bill Levy of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute in Calgary said it could be dangerous to transport gasoline.

"I've heard of people filling five or 10 containers in the truck," Mr. Levy said.

"If they do fill gas cans, take them home," he warned. "Don't drive around with them in the back of the car."

-- Martin Thompson (, June 02, 2001


This is a case in point that panic can and does happen, based on rumors, even though the Y2K Computer Bug threat did not ignite it.

-- Robert Riggs (, June 03, 2001.

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