May 20, 2013
Anger grows over fuel shortage in storm-hit Northeast
A third day of gasoline "panic buying" among storm-stricken motorists in the New York area and New Jersey prompted authorities to tap emergency oil reserves and ordered the military to dispatch fuel today, while limited deliveries from pipelines and oil barges offered a glimmer of relief.
Four days before the US presidential election, the Obama administration made an all-out effort to ease the crisis, authorizing the Defense Logistics Agency to buy and deliver up to 22 million gallons of fuel for the region, waiving a rule barring foreign-flagged vessels transiting U.S. ports and loaning out diesel from the Northeast heating oil stockpile.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered gasoline rationing starting at noon on Saturday, an action likely to draw comparisons with the 1970s oil crisis.
New York temporarily lifted tax and registration requirements on tankers docking in New York Harbor, which had just reopened to oil vessels. "There should be a real change in conditions and people should see it quickly," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
While the shipping waivers sent benchmark New York gasoline futures 2 percent lower, they will do little to address the immediate obstacle to getting fuel to consumers: power outages that shut two-thirds of the filling stations in New Jersey and the New York City area were still hindering service at oil terminals and refineries in the region.
While the main fuel pipeline from the US Gulf Coast region resumed shipments on Friday and a handful of oil storage terminals began shipping fuel again under generator power, many remained shut. The vast IMTT Bayonne terminal and storage farm, which hosts one-fifth of the harbor's capacity, is due to reopen sometime next week, its co-owner said.
Faced with losing another day of business, William Torrens got up at 5 a.m. in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to queue for fuel. The owner of All Clear Plumbing waited four hours in a six-block line at a Sunoco station before finally getting gasoline for his truck and home generator.
"I haven't seen something like this since I was a kid and there was a gas shortage," Torrens said, adding that the shortage was costing his business money.
"I can't spare a truck to sit for four hours in line. When my guys run out of gas, they're going to have to sit."
In Brooklyn, taxi drivers hunted for fuel. Long lines formed outside even empty stations after rumors spread that they would soon receive fuel deliveries. Officials said the number of cabs on the road by Friday morning was down 24 percent from last week.
By late on Friday, motorist group AAA said that nearly half of all service stations in New Jersey were now open for business, up from 35 to 40 percent earlier in the day, while a smaller number of New York City and Long Island stations had reopened. But the U.S. Energy Information Administration said two-thirds of service stations in the New York City area were still without gasoline for sale.