In Sandy’s wake, a new crisis: No gas

Hurricane Sandy no gas
Cars line up for gas in Morris Plains after Hurricane Sandy left New Jersey with its most acute shortage since the 1970s. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger)

By Lisa Rose and Mark Mueller

Gas lines stretched more than a mile in Somerville and Newark. Fights broke out at service stations in Elizabeth, Montclair and Middletown. Black marketeers and opportunists began to circle, reselling fuel at steep markups.

Hurricane Sandy, which brought unprecedented destruction, death and misery to New Jersey, has now brought something else: the most dire gasoline crisis since the oil embargo of the 1970s.

A critical pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico to Linden remains closed. Refineries are damaged or in the dark. Fuel terminals laden with millions of gallons of gas don’t have the power to pump it out, leaving tanker trucks idle. And an estimated 75 percent of service stations across the state are without either electricity or gas.

Industry and state officials assured Thursday the crunch would ease in the coming days as utilities restore power and as crews clear impassable streets, but they said it could be a week or more before fuel begins to flow freely.

In the meantime, they asked for calm and conservation.

“We’ve had a very significant incident in the state, and what we’re experiencing is not uncommon in places that have had large-scale disasters,” said Mary Goepfert, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Management. “We have not had this before. We just ask the public for patience for an additional short period of time.”

The problem, industry officials say, is not so much a lack of gas as a lack of available gas.

Hundreds of darkened stations have fuel in their underground tanks, but it will remain there, useless to everybody, until power is restored.

Gas terminals, which receive, store and distribute fuel, are facing a similar predicament. Some are without electricity. Others are coming online, but because they’re required to follow step-by-step safety procedures, they’re doing so slowly.

“This is not a supply problem. This is a delivery problem,” said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store, and Automotive Association, a trade group representing some 1,000 gas retailers. “There is plenty of supply. We just can’t get it from those big tanks you see along the Turnpike through the channels that put it in customers’ cars.”

Read the story at NJ.com (Nov. 2, 2012)

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