It was a month ago that Hurricane Sandy knocked out power throughout parts of New Jersey, triggering the kind of gas lines not seen since the 1970s. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider asked Sal Risalvato, Executive Dir. of NJ Gasoline, C-Store & Automotive Association, if lessons were learned from the experience to prevent a similar situation from happening when the next storm hits.
The ongoing power outages following superstorm Sandy, some lasting for weeks, was most heavily felt at gas stations throughout the state. Customers waited on line for hours to purchase gasoline for their cars and generators. The problem was so acute that Gov. Chris Christie issued an order for gas rationing to control demand at the pumps. The order was lifted several weeks ago and Risalvato says things are almost back to normal.
“For the most part, gasoline stations have been able to receive gasoline almost as easily as they did before the storm,” he said. “There is still some difficulty with some high grade products [like] premium and spot difficulties with diesel fuel.”
Although things have settled down considerably at service stations throughout the state, lawmakers are in the process of examining the statewide response to the storm. Some lawmakers have already called for legislation requiring gas stations to install backup generators so that they can continue to pump gas in the event of a power outage. Risalvato is emphatically opposed to the proposal, saying it simply would not work. It’s a discussion he’s already had with several legislators since Sandy. According to Risalvato, he presented a scenario to lawmakers in which the law was already in place when Sandy struck.
“[It] would have produced the exact same results,” he argued. “The line that you saw last month at gas stations would have still been there.”
That’s because the real source of the problem was the disruption of gas deliveries to the stations, a result of damage to the distribution terminals from the storm surge, says Risalvato.
“So they had power restored but yet they still could not load the delivery trucks that bring the gasoline to the gas stations,” he explained. “The only law that would really work is passing a law that outlaws hurricanes and I don’t think that that’s possible.”
The delay in gas deliveries of one or two weeks took a financial toll on many of his members who are small business owners, according to Risalvato.
“They still had mortgages to pay, they still had rents to pay and, in many cases, they had employees to pay.”
A law requiring station owners to invest in backup generators would be unduly burdensome because the kind of generators needed would run anywhere from “10,000 to “30,000, says Risalvato.
“The generators that we would need are not the type of generator that you just go down to Home Depot, throw in your trunk and plug in at your gas station. The type of generator that you would need is a much different generator, require a different installation and each location would be a different circumstance,” explained Risalvato
And according to Risalvato, it’s an investment in futility.
“Imagine you’re a small business and you just wrote a check for lets say for just $10,000 to put this backup generation system at your gas station. And now the generator is working, your lights are on and everything is working. [But] you’re sitting there closed with a line outside your driveway because you don’t get gasoline to put in your tank to pump in their cars. So that would be even more painful.”