Mary Ann Chastain/AP

Gas Shortage Persists in Southeast United States

September 29, 2008 02:53 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
U.S. consumers who can’t find gas to put in their vehicles are still feeling the effects of this season’s hurricanes.

No Guarantees

Since hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down oil operations around the Gulf of Mexico in early September, drivers in the Southeast have been struggling to find fuel for their automobiles. And when they find a gas station with sufficient inventory, many are forced to wait hours for their turn at the pump.

The Southeast is the only region of the country with no major gas storage or oil refining capacity, and it pumps all of its gasoline in by pipeline. As the Gulf continues recovering from recent storms, those pipelines are not operating at normal capacity. A spokesman for AAA Carolinas, Tom Crosby, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that more than two-thirds of Gulf Coast oil refineries are back online, however.

Energy experts and industry officials say it will likely be two more weeks before the shortages stop.

For now, some drivers say they’re just staying put. “I don’t have any assurance that I’m gonna even be able to get more than $30 worth of gas,” Wendy Stewart, who had to postpone a long trip, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “How am I gonna get out of town and drive five hours on $30 of gas? I can’t do it.”

Gas Tank Drivers Struggling

One gas distributor said his tank drivers are having problems getting to work to distribute the gas people need. “I haven't gone so far as to possibly fuel my drivers' vehicles off the truck, but I've talked to my customers, and I may just have to do that and if the state doesn't like that? whatever. But I mean if we start losing the tank truck drivers then we're really cooked,” Tex Pitfield, president of Saraguay Petroleum Corp. told WXIA-TV.

Bad Timing

The timing of this year’s hurricanes has made the gas shortage even more difficult. Refiners had already reduced their production to switch from summer-grade to winter-grade fuel. Those that had shut down for Hurricane Gustav were just getting started again when Hurricane Ike arrived.

Nearly a month passed with low supply coming from refineries. Panic buying then began contributing to the shortage that suppliers are now having trouble correcting. Independent gas stations in particular are struggling for gas because their purchases aren’t made on contractual arrangements; they are cut first in the event of shortages.

While timing might be making the gas shortage difficult, Bruce Bullock of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University told The Tennessean that the situation could have been worse. If storms had hit further down the coastline, refineries could have been out for nine months to a year.

Some regions of the country are less vulnerable to fuel troubles than others. Many Midwest states have their own refineries and can produce gas locally. The Northeast can import gasoline through New York harbor and store it in tanks in New Jersey.

Related Topic: 1973 oil crisis

Reference: U.S. gas production


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