In theory, industry analysts say there's no reason that victims of Hurricane Sandy's devastating path should face gas shortages or long lines at the pump. In reality, many gas stations are shuttered. And at ones that are open, customers face lines that are hours and miles long. Tempers are raging, and even fights are breaking out.
It's not necessarily happening because of a lack of gas.
"Right now, we don't have a gasoline crisis or an oil crisis or a diesel crisis," Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with Oil Price Information Service told The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. "We have an electricity crisis."
Fewer stations are open because they need electricity to pump gas. Some have run out of gas because tankers cannot bring new supplies through storm-ravaged streets. At the stations that do remain open, customers are rushing to fill their tanks and cans to supply fuel for generators.
Government officials are making changes to try and speed the flow of gasoline. President Obama waived the Jones Act barring foreign-flagged vessels from carrying fuel between U.S. ports in a bid to boost supplies from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast. Benchmark gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) fell 2 percent on the news.
Still, such tankers would not arrive for a week, and could not discharge their cargo without power.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would temporarily lift tax and registration requirements on tankers docking on the New York Harbor, which had just reopened to oil vessels. One ship carrying 2 million gallons of gasoline docked overnight in Newburgh, 60 miles north of New York city.
Officials are advising residents to avoid filling up if they do not absolutely need gas. Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum gas analyst at GasBuddy.com says that a herd mentality and panic only makes matters worse. "It exacerbates the problem," he told the newspaper.
In New Jersey, residents have been using Twitter hashtags #njgas and #njopen to direct each other to the nearest open gas stations and ones with shortest lines. Across the state, conditions are uneven.
A user reports that the line for gas has reached one mile long at a station on Route 10 in Morris Plains, N.J. At an Exxon station in Westfield, N.J., police are directing long lines of traffic and a separate walk-up line for people with cans. Meanwhile, at a rest area on the Garden State Parkway near Atlantic City, users report that there are no lines whatsoever.
New Jersey has deployed state troopers to gas stations along the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway to diffuse the increasing number of fights being reported over gasoline and line-cutting.
Drivers also face long lines and empty pumps in and around New York City, where gas station owners face similar problems of power outages and massive demand.
"Cars are pulling up and people are fighting each other," Mena Aziz, a Gulf Express station manager in Brooklyn, tells The New York Daily News. "It's so crazy."
Like their counterparts across the Hudson River, drivers in New York are using the hashtags #nyopen and #nygas to share gas station information.
"Where can we get gas y'all?" asked Veronica Jackson on Twitter. "Nassau? South Shore? Hewlett? ValleyStream? #Sandy ?!?!?! help," wrote another user.
Many motorists report that some stations are only accepting cash. The New Jersey Attorney General is investigating several price-gouging accusations, as many drivers report paying more than $5 per gallon of regular unleaded. State laws prohibit raising prices more than 10 percent in crisis situations.
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Hurricane Sandy is expected to have a significant impact on the auto industry -- and it's not all bad. In the short term, automakers say they expect sales to slow down. But as victims replace damaged or destroyed automobiles, the pace of sales--especially in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the most densely populated metro area in the U.S.--may quicken.