Snow covered the service bags tied around the fuel pumps at the Valero gas station. Across the street, at the New Braunfels Avenue exit off I-35, a Texaco station was dark and without power. A sign on the front door was posted: “GAS OUT OF ORDER. CREDIT CARD OUT OF ORDER.”
Gas stations across San Antonio struggled to keep their pumps flowing, as the winter storm that slammed the city over Valentine’s Day continued to ground supply trucks and knocked offline some refineries and supply stations.
Still, experts stressed that there is no lasting fuel shortage and urged motorists to avoid panic buying.
Crews at energy companies and suppliers have been working hard to resolve issues, and already the infrastructure has begun to thaw.
“There is plenty of fuel,” said Paul Hardin, president and CEO of the Texas Food and Fuel Association. Instead, he said, the closed pumps are a result of icy roads delaying the arrival of supply trucks.
“When you’re pulling 9,000 gallons of fuel behind you, you tend to be a little more careful and cautious,” he said.
Hardin stressed that the real danger is a situation like what happened after Hurricane Harvey, when rumors of fuel shortages prompted many to panic-buy all at once, overloading the system.
But beyond grounded supply trucks, there are other issues in the supply chain.
Many gas stations are stricken by the same blackouts affecting the rest of the city, and without power, gas can’t be pumped.
Tightening supply, major refineries on the coast were impacted by the storm, with some simply shut down entirely. The same is true for some fuel terminals in San Antonio that serve as intermediary suppliers.
Carl Kleimann, co-owner of Moffitt Services, a Cypress-based diesel supplier that operates in the San Antonio area, said his company was trucking in fuel for generators from as far away as Oklahoma and Kansas City until yesterday, when they were able to pull fuel from a Dallas terminal.
“As you can imagine, that adds a bit of cost and time,” he said.
Crews at NuStar Energy, which supplies 40% or so of all gasoline in San Antonio, worked into the night yesterday to install generators all along the company’s pipeline from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, as well as at its two terminals in the city.
Less than half an hour after the generator was installed at its south terminal, the area experienced a temporary power outage. Power has since returned.
Further working to keep the supply going, the company also secured commitments from energy companies at points along its pipeline where it did not have generators and at one point reversed its pipeline after a supplying refinery went down.
“It’s like a puzzle,” said Mary Rose Brown, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at NuStar. “And for our piece, we’ve secured the supply. Our terminals are up and running, and we’re ready to go.”
Prices at the pump have largely stayed the same. The average price of gasoline in San Antonio was $2.14 on Thursday, just $0.02 higher than last week and the lowest in the state, according to AAA Texas’ press release.
Meanwhile gas stations aren’t the only businesses being incapacitated by a frozen supply chain. Over the past few days, H-E-B stores across Texas have also been heavily affected by the icy roads and rolling blackouts, which have made both truck deliveries and stocking food difficult.
The locally headquartered grocery chain is “definitely seeing impacts,” said H-E-B spokeswoman Julie Bedingfield. H-E-B is encouraging its truck drivers to only travel on the roads if they feel safe doing so, Bedingfield said.
With product warehouses located both inside and outside of San Antonio, some trucks have been able to complete their deliveries successfully in parts of the state where roads are not as heavily affected, Bedingfield said.
She added the power shortages and boil-water notices across the state have also affected manufacturing, which in turn is affecting the supply chain.
“H-E-B products are sourced both from inside and outside the state, and the manufacturers are being faced with similar challenges,” Bedingfield said. “We’re seeing everybody impacted, but we’re all working as hard as we can.”
H-E-B is prioritizing stocking staple items such as water, she said. Bedingfield said customers should start seeing other products return to shelves as temperatures warm up over the weekend and roads clear.
Stocking cold items such as eggs and milk has been difficult with the rolling blackouts, Bedingfield added, but she assured H-E-B is getting product out as fast as possible.
“Safety is a top priority, not just for customers but also for our partners working at our stores,” she said. Bedingfield said if any employee has felt unsafe coming into work they have been excused. “We don’t want them going in if they cannot safely get there.”
Disclosure: H-E-B and NuStar Energy are San Antonio Report business members. For a full list of donors, click here.