As officials from San Antonio to Austin worked to calm fears of a fuel shortage, drivers continued to line up at gas stations on the eve of Labor Day weekend.
“I’ve been to two gas stations already,” a woman told the Rivard Report at a Valero Corner Store, where the car lines were only two deep before noon Thursday. “I’m so glad I found it here.”
By late afternoon Thursday, some drivers weren’t so lucky. Long lines continued to form Friday morning with drivers throughout the city experiencing waits and outages even as the panic started to abate.
Gas pumps at an Exxon station at Blanco and Bitters roads bore “out of service” signs Friday, and a team leader said she did not know when the station would be re-supplied. An Audie L. Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital physician said she drove for nearly two hours this morning, stopping at eight stations before finally finding gas. At pumps downtown on South Flores, cars snaked into the street as station agents directed traffic and tried to kept motorists’ frustration at bay.
Blocks away from another packed Valero, however, was the lonely Blanco Star gas station and convenience store. It was clearly open and there were no cars in line or at the pump.
On the heels of Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton’s message Thursday to “be patient,” because there is no fuel shortage, Mayor Ron Nirenberg also urged drivers not to panic.
“There is no gas shortage,” Nirenberg said. “As the result of delayed refinery operations caused by Hurricane Harvey, some stations have run low on gas. Please purchase gas as you would normally do. Don’t be misled by social media, which is causing people to panic and purchase more gas than necessary.”
Word of shortages were as much of a concern with drivers as price hikes in the wake of Hurricane Harvey that temporarily closed and possibly damaged refineries on the Texas coast early in the week.
Gas prices are up an average of 11 cents statewide since Thursday, said Daniel Armbruster, a spokesman for AAA Texas. Average prices statewide are currently at $2.36 a gallon for regular unleaded, but going up by the minute.
In San Antonio, Armbruster said average gas prices are up 12 cents, to $2.30 a gallon for regular unleaded, although many stations around San Antonio posted prices up to $2.39 Friday.
“It will most likely climb a little bit more, but it’s hard to predict beyond a couple of days because there are so many unknown factors,” Armbruster said. “While there have been long lines in Texas, there’s been a little bit of misinformation out there. There’s not a shortage of gas supply. Inventory is at historically high levels and there’s an abundant of supply across the U.S. So the shortages we’re seeing at the pump are expected to be short-lived.”
Most analysts agree it could take a couple of weeks for refineries to catch up and prices to go down again, he said. But the rush to purchase gas, and to buy more gas than needed, has contributed as much to the shortages and price increases as Harvey.
Increased travel on Labor Day weekend, like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, traditionally causes a spike in fuel consumption, which then abates as soon as children return to school and families return to routine in the fall.
Hurricanes also can produce price increases. The nation’s largest oil refineries sit on the Texas coast, producing millions of barrels of gasoline a day. When hurricanes Katrina and Ike slammed into the coast, those storms caused oil spills into the Gulf of Mexico that led to decreases in crude oil supplies across the country.
Harvey demolished coastal communities and dumped devastating amounts of rain in and around Houston, but no oil spills have been reported. And the current glut of oil will also lessen the impact of this storm on fuel supplies.
A statement from Valero on Thursday reported that its refining and supply teams are working to restore normal operations in Texas.
“Valero’s Corpus Christi and Three Rivers refineries, which supply gasoline and diesel to the San Antonio, South Texas, and Austin markets, were shut down during Hurricane Harvey, but are currently in the process of restarting operations,” the company stated. “In the meantime, Valero continues to supply its Valero-branded customers in these markets at slightly reduced volumes. We anticipate our supply returning to normal levels in these markets as these refineries resume full operations in the next several days.”
Extensive flooding in Houston, however, is hampering distribution of available fuel, and its Houston and Texas City refineries continue to operate at reduced rates, Valero said.
“Call it what you want, but the impact of Harvey is far-reaching with respect to the Texas’ fuel supply,” wrote George Presses, vice president of fuel and energy at H-E-B, in a Facebook post Thursday. “Many refineries and terminals were in the direct path of the storm and supply in this region has been severely impacted and will remain limited for the next several weeks.
“While refining capacity has been curtailed, demand both in advance of the storm and now that everyone is panicking, has skyrocketed. The problem we face here is inconvenience. A little patience and planning will make this a non-event for most.
“On the other hand, Houston has lost most of its production ability for the time being. They are also dealing with problems associated with concerns in the ship channel and the future challenges that brings.”
Armbruster said AAA is recommending that Labor Day travelers fill up as they normally would before a road trip, then again when the gas gauge drops to a quarter of a tank.
“From my personal experience, I was in [the small town of] Lorena yesterday and got gas below the state average [price],” he said. “If you’re traveling, pull over in the smaller cities.”