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    N.J. Retailers Accuse Oil Companies of Gouging

    Rocketing fuel prices caused by collusion -- independent gasoline retailers association claims.

    TRENTON, N.J. -- Gasoline retailers around New Jersey are accusing oil companies of price gouging as the price of a gallon of gas soars to record highs.

    "It's hard to believe that a blackout or a pipeline problem or a futures market or crude oil prices are affecting the price so much that it's jumped 35 cents in two weeks," said Bill Dressler, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association, a trade organization for independent station owners.

    Dressler told The Trentonian of New Jersey he believes the oil companies are acting in collusion in an effort to increase profit margins in the midst of a financially bad year

    "I really believe there is collusion among the oil companies," Dressler said. "Proving it is another matter."

    Dressler protested the cost per gallon at the pump only reflects the cost of crude when the prices are going up -- something motorists have complained about for years.

    "If the price of crude oil goes up, the price of gas goes up right away, but if the crude prices drop, it takes four to six months to see a drop at the pump," an exasperated Dressler pointed out. "Why is that if the price goes up they ship crude by jet, but if the crude price drops they ship it on a slow boat from China?"

    Major oil companies have offered a number of excuses for the spike in gas prices, including refineries in California that were partially shutdown for unexpected maintenance. Those shutdowns caused shortages along the West Coast.

    Also a leaking pipeline in Phoenix was shut down, forcing California gas supplies to be diverted to Arizona. And then the blackout that hit two weeks ago was blamed for further depleting Gulf Coast supplies when the electricity blackout temporarily shut down three refineries.

    Gas retailers, however, aren't buying any of these excuses, the report said.

    "First [oil companies] said it was the blackout, then it was the blackout and a pipeline in Phoenix -- but the refineries that feed that pipeline are in Texas and California so the shortage should be out on the West Coast or in the southwest," said Ross DiBono, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gasoline Retailers Association.

    "It just doesn't make sense. There's no shortage of gasoline -- in fact there is a surplus," DiBono added.

    Gas retailers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been forced to explain to their customers that they are not responsible for the sudden increase. DiBono explained most retailers are just throwing up their hands in disgust because the increases are coming from the top, but the complaints are being heard at the pump, the report said.

    "The only people profiting from this right now are the oil companies because the gas station owners certainly are not," DiBono charged.

    Both men believe prices will suddenly drop after the high drive-time Labor Day weekend, but not a day sooner. "It will come down but not the same way it shot up," Dressler said. "At the end of next week you'll see prices drop a nickel, and slowly drop from there."

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