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Why did gas prices suddenly jump so fast?

El Paso gas station (CBS4/KFOX14)

A KFOX14 viewer named Ed wanted to know why gas prices shot up so much, so fast late last month as Hurricane Harvey pounded Southeast Texas. He complained it seemed like the big oil companies were taking advantage of customers just in time for the Labor Day weekend.

Prices at the pump did jump by about 30-cents a gallon in El Paso overnight.

Part of the explanation is that this happens when an important commodity like oil gets hit at one of its most important manufacturing, refining and delivery centers, which is Southeast Texas.

But analysts also say one of the biggest problems created by Hurricane Harvey was panic buying of gasoline across Texas. The inventory of available gasoline suddenly plummeted because so many people were filling their tanks.

KFOX14 showed video of long gas lines and empty gas pumps in other parts of the state.

UTEP Economics Professor, Dr. Tom Fullerton told me when there's that much demand, gas stations will try to protect their supply by raising the price to try and slow down the demand. He said stores want to discourage people from buying when their supply is going fast and they're not sure when they'll get re-supplied with gasoline.

Officials with the Texas Attorney General’s office believe some companies did take it too far. There are reports of gasoline going for as much as $5.99 or $6.99 a gallon in North Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The A.G.'s office said it's now investigating more than 3,300 price gouging complaints.

If you believe you’re the victim of price gouging, you can call the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-621-0508.

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