Despite long lines and stations running out of gas, tank trucks are still filling up and making deliveries to stations. rmallison@star-telegram.com
Despite long lines and stations running out of gas, tank trucks are still filling up and making deliveries to stations. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Gas Prices

Gas prices still rising, many stations empty as holiday weekend begins

By Gordon Dickson

gdickson@star-telegram.com

September 01, 2017 7:07 PM

Gas prices continued to rise in North Texas and many stations remained dormant Friday as a local fuel shortage caused by Hurricane Harvey dragged into the Labor Day weekend.

But gasoline retailers and others who follow the petroleum industry said there were some signs that the situation would improve by early next week.

QuikTrip, for example, had only 41 of its 135 stations with open gas pumps early Friday evening, according to its website. But spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said the company had been told that refineries and pipelines serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area would be resuming operations soon, which would improve supplies. Also, he said, fuel was being trucked in from other locations.

“We opened up four more stores today,” Thornbrugh said. “We hope to have all stores back up and running in the near future.”

By noon Sunday, the website showed about 80 QuikTrip stations had gas.

There were isolated reports of fistfights and other confrontations at some Dallas-Fort Worth gas stations, especially on Thursday as news of the impending shortage spread and long lines of cars queued up. But by Friday, many motorists simply parked their cars near empty pumps, apparently content to wait until the next fuel truck arrived.

State officials continued to urge calm. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday there’s “plenty of gasoline in the state of Texas,” noting that shipments were coming from other states and that a pipeline that normally sends gasoline from Texas to Oklahoma had been reversed.

“Don’t worry,” Abbott said, “We won’t run out.”

Nationwide, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.45, the highest price of the year, AAA said.

“Consumers will see a short-term spike in the coming weeks with gas prices likely topping $2.50/gal, but quickly dropping by mid to late September,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson, in a statement. “AAA does not expect refineries to be offline for months, as early reports indicate minimal to no significant damage to Corpus Christi and Houston refineries.”

Texas was among the states with largest price increases — 11 cents per gallon — since Harvey came ashore. South Carolina was the highest at 19 cents.

Waiting game

In Fort Worth, many stations advertised regular unleaded for more than $3 a gallon. A Drivers Truck Stop on Interstate 35W about four miles north of downtown Fort Worth posted gas for $3.49 a gallon Friday evening on its digital sign — even though the pumps were dry — and at least eight cars were parked under the station’s canopy waiting for a new load of fuel to arrive.

Refineries in Corpus Christi were reportedly getting close to resuming operations, and those plants play a major role in providing fuel to the Metroplex.

A tanker truck arrives at the Motiva storage facility on Sylvania Ave. which is part of the gasoline infrastructure system in Fort Worth, Friday, September 1, 2017.
Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com

But in Port Arthur, Motiva’s plant, the nation’s largest refinery, could remain shut for up to two weeks, according to Reuters, which could continue to disrupt gas supplies nationwide.

Normally, much of the regular unleaded sold at North Texas stations is pumped into the region by pipeline from the Gulf Coast, but those pipelines have been idled by the historical flooding caused by Harvey.

Many retailers are turning to fuel farms — also known as terminals, or racks — in other parts of Texas or in neighboring states to make ends meet.

Among the stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that were able to stay open, regular unleaded was selling for an average of $2.53 a gallon, according to GasBuddy. That’s 44 cents higher than the $2.09 average on Monday.

Shared resources

Petroleum companies that normally compete fiercely against each other agreed to share their stashes of fuel, in an effort to bring calm to the temporary crisis in North Texas.

“We have given our distributor customers in the impacted area the flexibility to deliver Exxon- or Mobil-branded fuel to stations of other brands that may be out of product, and vice versa, to maximize the number of service stations that have gasoline during this recovery period,” ExxonMobil spokeswoman Suann Guthrie said in an email.

The Motiva storage facility on Sylvania Ave. is part of the gasoline infrastructure system in Fort Worth, Friday, September 1, 2017.
Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com

John Benda, owner of Fuel City travel centers in Haltom City and Dallas, said he normally bought his fuel from terminals in the Metroplex that are fed by the Gulf Coast pipelines. But since those terminals were out of gas Friday, he used two fuel trucks to haul unleaded and diesel fuel hundreds of miles from an undisclosed East Texas location.

On several occasions, he said, his drivers reported that motorists apparently were so desperate for gas they followed the trucks along their delivery routes.

“We have people following our trucks where they’re going. It’s like a wagon train,” Benda said.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton on Thursday urged Texans to go about their business, saying there was no fuel shortage, but rather just a temporary distribution challenge.

But others urged Texans to avoid unnecessary travel to conserve a limited fuel supply.

“Consumers are encouraged to be conservative with fuel use to help preserve supplies for first responders and other critical users,” ExxonMobil, which has had three facilities in Baytown, Beaumont and Lake Charles, La., shut down by the storm, said in a statement.

Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association and former Texas Agriculture commissioner, said the industry was “working to stabilize the supply chain and working with our partners in the retail gasoline business to meet the demands they are experiencing.”

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency encourages consumers to maintain their regular buying habits for their vehicles, which can help alleviate a sudden surge in demand,” he said. “The fuel distribution system in Texas and across the nation is very large and individual companies are directing all resources to safely re-engage the necessary infrastructure to work through the challenging circumstances.”

Friendly skies

During the gas crunch, it appears to be easier to get fuel for a plane than a car.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines said it is monitoring its fuel supply inventory levels and does not expect to have any immediate impact on its flight schedule.

Although Southwest Airlines gets some of its jet fuel from Houston-area refineries, the Dallas-based airline said the situation was “improving.”

“We are asking that certain workgroups implement our fuel conservation efforts, primarily associated with how pilots fly, until we see a full recovery,” said Southwest spokesperson Brandy King.

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport spokesman David Magaña said the airport has an eight-day supply of jet fuel for carriers to use. And since about 95 percent of the airport’s buses and fleet vehicles operate on compressed natural gas, DFW will have no issues transporting passengers between terminals, parking lots and the rental car center.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority’s fleet runs on compressed natural gas, or CNG, so its services will not be affected by the gas shortage. To help evacuees, the T is operating Route 3 on a Saturday schedule on Sunday and Monday this weekend.

Uber is telling its drivers to check gasbuddy.com for stations where they can get gas and for up-to-date gas prices. The company said it has also donated rides to and from shelters throughout the area affected by Harvey.

Staff writer Andrea Ahles contributed to this report, which also includes information from The Associated Press.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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