Southeastern U.S. Still Struggling With Fuel Frenzy

The Washington Post and other media outlets say gasoline shortages triggered by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike are continuing to hit towns across the southeastern U.S. this week, sparking panic buying, long lines and high prices.

Portions of The Washington Post report:

In Atlanta, half of the gasoline stations were closed, according to AAA, which said the supply disruptions had taken place along two major petroleum product pipelines that have operated well below capacity since the hurricanes knocked offshore oil production and several refineries out of service along the Gulf of Mexico.

Drivers in Charlotte reported lines with as many as 60 cars waiting to fill up late Wednesday night, and a community college in Asheville, N.C., where most of the 25,000 students commute, canceled classes and closed down Wednesday afternoon for the rest of the week. Shortages also hit Nashville, Knoxville and Spartanburg, S.C., AAA said.

In Atlanta, Jonathan Tyson, a Douglasville, Ga., resident who works for a company that does training for auto and RV franchise dealerships, ran out of fuel while waiting an hour in a line about 60 cars long to fill up his Land Rover.

"It was crazy," Tyson said. "People were standing on side of road with gas cans saying they’d pay the person to run a [credit] card through just to get gas so they didn’t run out before they got up to the pump themselves."

The city government, which uses 10,000 gallons a day, barred the public from two stations to make sure it could keep municipal vehicles running.

AAA spokesman John Townsend said that Colonial Pipeline, a leading supplier in the region, and the smaller Plantation Pipeline, which belongs to Kinder Morgan, were functioning below capacity because of lingering refinery problems along the Gulf coast.

A spokesman for Colonial, whose Web site displays a news release from Sept. 10 before Hurricane Ike hit, did not return calls for comment.

The Energy Department said that as of Wednesday 63%, or 800,000 barrels a day, of production in the Gulf of Mexico was still shut down as were five refineries with a combined capacity of 1.2 million barrels a day. The refineries produce a half-million barrels of gasoline a day, or about 5 percent of the nation’s total supplies. Other refineries are still working at less than full capacity. Hurricane Gustav landed Sept. 1, and Ike hit Sept. 13.

"The production loss is similar to what was lost after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina," said Anne Peebles, a Shell Oil spokeswoman. "This time the physical damage [to oil facilities] was not as great, but the down time with the storms hitting back to back is similar." She said that "more fuel is coming" as facilities gradually ramp up again, but "we do think that production availability will normalize in the next several weeks."

Townsend said that the Colonial pipeline normally carries 100 million gallons a day, traveling about 2,500 miles from Texas, Louisiana and Alabama to 267 marketing terminals across the East and Southeast. Although nearly 15 percent of the gas stations in Virginia were reporting outages last week, the Washington region has been able to tap into supplies from areas such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which can more readily obtain supplies from tanker and other pipelines. Earlier supply problems in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Tallahassee also had eased, he said.

Other areas of the country were not so fortunate. An Atlanta Exxon dealer said that his station’s allocation was only 40 percent of normal.

Mike Thornburgh, a spokesperson at QuikTrip, said that half of the gasoline retailer’s 111 Atlanta area stations were open, up from a quarter last weekend. He said that QuikTrip was trying to keep stores open near commuters and schools. He said he didn’t know when things would return to normal.

"I can’t give a concrete answer because I don’t believe anybody knows," he said.Public officials appealed for calm as it appeared that panic buying might exacerbate supply problems if motorists try to keep more fuel than usual in their tanks. The Environmental Protection Agency suspended regulations for antipollution additives to help ease the supply situation.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue provoked some angry comments on the Atlanta Journal Constitution Web site, which quoted him as saying that "there is ample fuel in the city" and that some of the panic was "self-induced."

7ads6x98ycss.php