Energy Department using Web to collect price gouging data

The Energy Department is collecting information on possible price gouging at the gas pump through its Web site'and the public is responding in droves.

'The price gouging [link] is big; it allows people to tell us what they see with regard to gas prices in their regions,' said DOE spokesman Craig Stevens. 'If there is the potential for price fixing or collusion, we pass it on to the Federal Trade Commission.' Stevens added that the Gaswatch Web site has 'got a lot of play the last couple of days,' with more than 5,000 hits Sept. 1 alone.

With gas prices soaring following the disruption of service at fuel refineries and in distribution systems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, consumers are paying attention to every increase.

In addition to soliciting public input on gasoline prices, the department has been utilizing its Hurricane Visualization Room, according to Stevens.

'It overlays locations of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, refineries, natural gas pipelines, the oil pipelines and any major electrical outlets,' such as a nuclear power site in the region, 'with the effects of the storm, so we're able to see exactly where some of our potential trouble spots are.'

One headache arising from the Category 4 storm: The administrative headquarters for the petroleum reserve is located in the region, and it was lost to flooding. 'A lot of the information is on the server down there and not available now,' Stevens said.

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