Texas attorney general investigating gas gouging reports in North Texas

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The Texas Attorney General’s office told FOX4 it is sending investigators to North Texas after images from media outlets and consumers of suspiciously high gas prices.

SKY4 found prices as high as $4.99 for regular gasoline at a location in Mesquite and $3.99 for regular and $4.49 for premium at a station in Garland.

The average price of gasoline right now in the DFW area is $2.39 per gallon of unleaded but that is expected to go up.

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A spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office said if consumers are seeing prices higher than $4 per gallon it can be considered gouging. He encouraged people to take photos of the pump or signs and report them online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/price-gouging or call the hotline at 1-800-621-0508.

The attorney general's Consumer Protection Division received more than 500 complaints on Thursday, most from North Texas.

"Texas law protects consumers from fraud in Dallas and other parts of Texas outside of the governor's declared disaster areas," said Marc Rylander, communications director for the attorney general's office. "If Dallas consumers are victims of fraud by gas stations, we urge them to contact our agency's consumer protection hotline so that we can investigate and take appropriate action."

In an online interview with the Texas Tribune, Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton says he gets what people are feeling. But he says even with refineries still flooded, there's enough gasoline.

"Lot of has is here," he said. "it's a matter of getting it from a storage facility from a terminal to the gas station itself."

The commissioner says it's a logical problem that's easily solved, except for the run on the gasoline.

"If on average you fill up your car once every six days, but you go today and so does everyone else -- thats six to seven times the demand on every gas station," he explained.

Some pumps were tapped out on Thursday as people across North Texas waited in lines to fill up their tanks on worries that there would be a shortage.

Quick Trip announced Wednesday it was cutting in half the number of locations that will be refilled with gas. The company has 135 locations across the Dallas-Fort Worth area and doesn’t want to spread limited gasoline supplies too thin.

"We will are designated stores in all quadrants of the Dallas Fort Worth area and make sure those stores will constantly have carriers back and forth supplying gasoline,” Thornbrugh explained. “And the other stores will be open but won't have gas until the situation gets better."

Hurricane Harvey forced nearly a dozen refineries in South Texas to shut down. The nation’s largest refinery in the Beaumont-Port Arthur region closed Wednesday when the area started flooding.

Bernard Weinstein, an economist at SMU's Cox School of Business, said consumers are making a bad situation worse by topping off tanks and filling up gas cans "just in case."

“It's taking a small shortage, which should last a few days, and making it a much bigger shortage,” Weinstein said.

The impact of Harvey has production down at the nation's refineries about 17 percent. Prices have spiked about 20 cents, but that’s not unexpected Weinstein said.

“That's just part of the allocation mechanism -- if you have a limited supply you'll see higher prices as demand increases,” Weinstein said.

But the economist admitted he’s also contributed to the issues.

“I'm part of the problem,” Weinstein said. “What did I do after I saw a story last night on your station about gas problems? I ran out and filled my tank even though I had half a tank already.”

Commuters are seeing the empty pumps first, as the suburbs were the first to report long lines and limited supply thanks to the long distances many drive to work. There’s also an upcoming holiday weekend with road trip plans that have some gas stations running on empty.

Consumers should also consider that larger facilities will sell gas cheaper, for now. It doesn't necessarily mean independent shops are inflating prices. The bigger stations have a larger storage capacity, which means they're selling gas they bought before Harvey ever hit.  The smaller independent shops have smaller storage and have had to refill at a higher cost.

"I've never seen anything like this! And I talk to a lot of people that have been in the industry 30-35 years and they've never seen it this bad,” said Erick Kotanchik, Fuel City Vice President of Operations.

Fuel City had to put employees in the parking lot to direct traffic due to all of the people.

"People are just getting angry and there have been some fender bender's where people don't want to move to let someone out and they'll back up,” Kotanchik said.

"Every gas station I tried to go to, it seems like it's so busy and everybody was getting frustrated they didn't have any gas,” said customer Chad Ruffin.

Kotanchik said it’s been a challenge to find suppliers who have readily available gasoline at the moment.

"I've been on the phone day and night for about four days now and there's hardly any product anywhere,” Kotanchik said.

At a Costco off I-35 in Lewisville, the cars were roughly 35 deep waiting to get gas. People were waiting a little more than an hour to fill up midday Thursday.

"I've been all over today. I drive for Uber and it’s the same everywhere,” Mark Taylor said. “I was in Duncanville earlier and they're all out. Nobody has any.”

Terri Phillips said she was coming up empty everywhere she went and had been searching all day to fill up, burning up what she had in her tank in the process.

“So many people here now, and everybody is just going right now, right now,” Phillips said.

Others sweating it out in the long lines said people were creating the issues.

“I think they’re panicking and there's a real problem,” said customer Andrew Cook.

Some drivers paid $3.99 a gallon for regular unleaded at a Mesquite convenience store.

“$44.40 ridiculous. Really expensive for gas,” Dezman Anderson. “I had a quarter of a tank left and I have to go to work tomorrow.”

Many say even though there isn't a true shortage, the fear of one drove them to fill up.