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SEATTLE -- An Industry expert says it is just too early to tell how much the price of gas at the pump could go up as a result of the fire at the BP oil refinery at Cherry Point in Whatcom County Friday afternoon.

Tim Hamilton, executive director of Automotive United Trades Organization,representing gas station operators and suppliers, says without knowing the extent of the damage to the refinery and how much production capacity has been lost there is no accurate way to predict what prices will do.

Background: State investigates cause of WA refinery blaze

However, Hamilton says that gasoline prices in the Puget Sound region were already expected to start creeping up, after dealers saw a 10 to 15 cent increase in their prices, an increase that is not yet reflected, On the street, Hamilton added.

Hamilton says station owners have been reluctant to be the first to raise prices in their areas, but can t continue to absorb the wholesale increase for long.

Hamilton says adding the BP fire into the mix changes the equation. If there is a prolonged shutdown at Cherry Point, other producers could ramp up production to make up for the shortfall and prices could remain fairly stable. If they cannot make up the difference, gasoline most likely would have to be shipped in from other areas, adding to the wholesale price.

Hamilton says if prices jump sharply Monday morning, it could be a bad sign.

Photos: Fire at Washington oil refinery

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