Gas stations across North Texas ran out of fuel Thursday as drivers formed long lines to fill up their vehicles and paid steadily rising prices in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which left Gulf Coast refineries shuttered and stymied the supply chain.
Many stations were already running low Wednesday when major retailer QuikTrip announced that it would shut down half of its North Texas pumps because it could not get enough gas to keep them all open. An ensuing run on gasoline across North Texas pushed prices above $3 a gallon in some areas by Thursday afternoon at stations that still had gas.
Motorists can expect to pay higher prices for several weeks as fuel companies scramble to replenish their supplies, an analyst said. About 30 of the nation’s 114 refineries are in or near the Texas Gulf Coast, where most have been shut down since the storm’s arrival and could remain dormant for several more days, she said.
“This is going to go on for a couple of weeks. Once the refineries do dry out and get back up and functioning, we do see prices going back down,” said Allison Mac, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, a gas price tracking service.
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Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, in an interview with The Texas Tribune, stressed that there is not a shortage of gasoline in the state, but rather a temporary distribution problem.
“There is a challenge of logistics, getting it from where it’s stored to the gas stations,” he said, noting that the state has a gasoline supply of more than 230 million barrels.
He urged citizens to be patient.
“If your car is full, if you know you can go three to four days (without filling up), I would not be worried,” he said. “There may be a few pockets (of gas shortages). But somewhere within driving distance, you’ll be able to get gasoline.”
There was little sign of patience Thursday as drivers rushed to the pumps, sometimes bringing portable gas tanks to fill up as well. By Thursday afternoon, lines of cars 10 to 20 deep were widely reported at stations across the Metroplex.
Tempers flared in some locations, prompting Arlington police to go out on seven reports of disputes at gas stations Thursday, according to Lt. Christopher Cook, Arlington police spokesman. The calls involved verbal altercations related to people cutting in line, Cook said. There were no arrests, Cook said.
Gas prices rose by 25 cents or more per gallon almost overnight, not only in Texas but in neighboring states and even as far away as North Carolina and South Carolina.
Many North Texans took to social media to complain about price gouging, with some reporting isolated incidents of prices ranging from $5.99 a gallon at one Dallas station to $8.02 a gallon at a place in Garland.
Thinning gas supplies stretched beyond the DFW area. In Mineral Wells about 70 miles west of Fort Worth, Randall Yoes said his wife pulled into a Exxon-based convenience store off U.S. 180 and started to fill up when she noticed the price was $4.99 a gallon.
She stopped and went inside to voice her displeasure, said Yoes, 79. “She was unhappy ... there’s all kinds of people unhappy.”
He said most of the stations in town were selling at normal prices, “you know, 2-something.”
“But $4.99, that’s just pure greed.”
It is illegal for merchants to sell fuel, bottled water or other supplies at unreasonably high rates during an emergency, and the Texas attorney general’s office encouraged residents to report any such instances.
In the Fort Worth-Arlington area, regular unleaded, which on Monday was selling for an average of $2.09 a gallon Monday, had jumped to $2.40 a gallon by Thursday, according to GasBuddy. By next week, it’s likely the price will jump another 20 to 35 cents a gallon, Mac said, which would put the average cost around $2.70.
She added that it’s possible the average per-gallon cost could rise to nearly $3 a gallon, and stay there until the supply of refined gasoline returns to normal.
On Thursday afternoon, a Chevron on Texas 121 just east of downtown Fort Worth was advertising regular unleaded for $3.09.
Although many North Texans complained about the stress of waiting in long lines for fuel, many on social media took a lighthearted approach.
On Twitter, Amber Jones, who uses the handle @_yourenergy, wrote on her feed: “Saddling up my horses to take me to my afternoon meeting in Fort Worth. If I leave now I might make it to Arlington by night.”
Still others urged residents to consider using public transportation. Fort Worth Transportation Authority buses run on compressed natural gas, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light-rail system is electrified.
“I bet the DFW area wishes they had better/more widespread public transportation,” wrote Mark Hamilton, who uses the Twitter handle @imupse7ev.
A Star-Telegram reporter who drove from Grapevine to downtown Fort Worth early Thursday spoke informally to employees at 19 stations. Five were already out or about to run out of fuel. Seven had an ample supply of gas. At the remaining seven stations, employees weren’t sure how much gas they had.
In Colleyville, at the Valero attached to Hall’s Wine & Spirits (and barbecue sandwich emporium) at Glade Road and Texas 121, employees said they thought they’d have enough gas to last through the weekend. A note on gas pumps advertised the fresh Tennessee tomatoes inside, rather than a warning about any impending gas shortages.
By late afternoon, the station still had gas, but employees were telling customers they didn’t know how long it would last.
Across Glade Road at a 7-Eleven, a frowny-face sign indicated the convenience store had already run out of gas in the morning. By evening, another shipment had arrived and gas lines had returned.
At Fuel City, a company that operates a store in Haltom City and two in Dallas, owner John Benda said he was certain his fuel would run out, most likely by Friday. His Haltom City store remained open Thursday afternoon.
In far north Fort Worth, a Walmart on North Tarrant Parkway and two more 7-Elevens were all out of gas Thursday morning.
Officials at Murphy USA, which operates many of the gas pumps at Metroplex Walmarts, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Walmart operates 22 of its own gas stations in the North Texas region, and those outlets were operating normally Thursday, Walmart spokesman Ragan Dickens said.
On Thursday, the U.S. government took steps to minimize the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the refining industry, announcing the release of 1 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, according to Bloomberg News.
It’s the first emergency discharge in five years, after Hurricane Harvey halted foreign-crude deliveries to the heart of the nation’s refining industry. The oil will go to a Phillips 66 refinery in Lake Charles, La., which will be required to replace it once supplies are flowing again.
As many as 11 ports were shut during Harvey’s five-day rampage across hundreds of miles of the Texas coast, leaving 28 tankers laden with more than 18 million barrels of overseas oil drifting offshore as of Wednesday night.
Four ports including those in Galveston and Texas City have reopened partially, but it wasn’t clear if the restrictions in place would allow tankers to dock. Seven other ports remained closed.
Harvey shuttered about 23 percent of U.S. refining capacity, with multiple refineries in the Houston, Port Arthur, Texas, and Beaumont, Texas, areas closed. They include the nation’s largest refinery, operated by Motiva Enterprises, which has no timeline for a restart. The storm has also led to some flows being halted on the Colonial Pipeline, a major transportation source for fuel to the Northeast.
The last time the Energy Department authorized an emergency exchange of oil from the reserve was in 2012 during Hurricane Isaac.
Staff writers Matthew Martinez, and Lee Williams contributed to this report, which includes material from Bloomberg News and Star-Telegram archives.