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Plenty of Fuel, No Way to Pump It

Tom Johnson | November 2, 2012

Long lines at N.J. gas stations blamed on widespread power outages.

Gas line

There’s plenty of gas in New Jersey.

The problem has been powering up the state’s fuel terminals so that fuel could be unloaded and delivered to the few gas stations open in the days after Hurricane Sandy and restoring electrical service to stations with plenty of fuel but no way to pump it.

That irony is of little solace to the thousands of motorists and homeowners who lined up, sometimes for hours, at gas stations around New Jersey that had electricity to operate their pumps and gasoline to sell.

The shortage was emerging Wednesday and Thursday as a burgeoning crisis, even as more than million residents were still stuck with no power in their homes, no landline phone service and no Internet service.

With gas not readily available, it became even more difficult for residents to return to work or get to the few open grocery stores with goods on their shelves.

The gas crunch didn’t just deter travel and cause traffic jams. Many New Jersey residents were relying on fuel to power home generators in the face of the widespread outages.

The gasoline shortage could ease by the end of the weekend, predicted Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association (NJGCA), and return to normal sometime next week.

“There is plenty of supply,” Risalvato said. “This is a delivery problem where gas cannot get from the terminals because of a lack of power there.”

A petroleum industry lobbyist agreed. “This not an inventory problem,” he said.

Many gas stations – as many as 75 percent – just didn’t have electricity. The problem was worse in the northern part of the state; there were some shortages in the southern part of the state, but they not as widespread.

Gas stations were not likely to get preferential treatment from the utilities. A spokeswoman for the state’s largest utility said they were being treated like any other business without power.

“Unfortunately, gas stations will come back online as we bring back power to their neighborhoods,” said Karen Johnson, spokeswoman for Public Service Electric & Gas.

About 780,000 PSE&G customers were still without power as of Thursday evening, she said.

Asked whether better planning could have averted the shortages, Risalvato said gas-station owners did the best they could to fill their tanks before the storm. For some, economics prevented them from doing so.

Many are small businesses, he said, “and every time a truck comes in, it costs them $34,000 to fill up the tanks.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard reopened the Port of New York and New Jersey on a restricted basis to allow petroleum suppliers to maintain the inventory, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). The port, one of the busiest in the world, had been closed as a precaution during the hurricane.

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