Short-term gas shortage leads to long lines statewide

Gas station in Austin days after Hurricane Harvey. (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)
Gas station in Austin days after Hurricane Harvey. (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gasoline prices in Texas could rise by 35 cents a gallon due to the effects of Hurricane Harvey. But the head of the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in the state says there is an adequate supply of gasoline to meet the demand.

On Thursday, Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said people “have no need to fear shortages.”

Sitton says the current issues with gas stations running out of fuel is because people are rushing to gas stations to buy fuel, which is causing a run on gas — basically a vicious cycle.

“People are taking their gas cans, their Suburbans down to the gas station,” said Sitton. “Even if we had all of the refineries running, we’d still be having this issue.”

Currently, there are 15 petroleum refineries that have been taken down or running at a reduced capacity. That includes the nation’s largest, the Motiva Refinery in Port Arthur.

The state agency acknowledged that the biggest problem right now is logistics: getting the gasoline from fuel terminals to service stations due to transportation challenges resulting from Harvey.

“Virtually every gas station is refueled by a truck,” explained Sitton. “A truck goes to a distribution terminal, that gets their gas from pipelines. That truck moves on regular intervals.” Sitton gave an example of a gas station that usually sells around 10,000 gallons of gasoline in a week, but when everyone shows up in 24 hours to buy the fuel on hand, it could be several more days before the station gets refueled.

Long lines at a Valero gas station in Georgetown, Texas, on State Highway 29 and Southeast Inner Loop. Aug. 31, 2017 (KXAN Viewer Photo)
Long lines at a Valero gas station in Georgetown, Texas, on State Highway 29 and Southeast Inner Loop. Aug. 31, 2017 (KXAN Viewer Photo)

Sitton believes this situation will be resolved in the next three to four days. He wants to urge everyone that if you can go a few days without gas, you shouldn’t be worried.

Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick reemphasized that the state has gasoline. “So, don’t run out and fill up you tank. You’re OK. What we are now seeing is companies as well as the logistics world look at is how you get it from the refinery through the pipes to the truck, to your local gas station.”

“We will continue to see a price increase I think for the next several weeks, if not a month or more. Ten cents, to, I’ve seen as much as 35 cents predicted. A lot depends on what happens as soon as we get refineries back up.”

Craddick said it could potentially take weeks to get all Texas refineries back on line. Companies will have to do an assessment when the water goes down. But what if there is a worst case scenario with refineries being down for months?

“Then obviously we have other refineries in the country. And we’ve had a lot of supplies put, and sitting in storage tanks. So that’s part of what we get to in a few months. And we’re trying to manage the problem in the short term,” Craddick said. “I think we’re doing very well in Texas and I think we’re going to recover in the long term.”

Harvey will cause temporary shifts in the flow of oil and gas around the world. But Craddick says there is no need for Texans to constantly “top off” their gas tanks.

On Thursday, AAA said the statewide gas price average in Texas is $2.26 for a gallon of regular unleaded; which is 12 cents more per gallon compared to this day last week. Even though Craddick says supply is plentiful, many KXAN viewers are reporting gas stations they’ve encountered have run out of regular unleaded.

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