Irma's Fuel-Supply Crunch Improving

While outages continue, more Florida gas stations back in business

CHICAGO -- Thirty-seven percent of gas stations in Florida were still facing fuel outages Sept. 13 as the state continues to recover from Hurricane Irma.

“That’s actually a pretty substantial improvement from 46% a few days ago,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, told CSP Daily News as he traveled around Tallahassee, Fla., to see fuel-supply conditions there firsthand.

“Most areas have seen an absolute improvement from their peaks,” he said, although most of the major metropolitan markets are still dealing with more than 40% of their gas stations without fuel, as of the morning of Sept. 13. The Miami/Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers-Naples and Tallahassee markets were at or approaching 50% of sites without fuel, according to GasBuddy, Boston. Gainesville, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Orlando all topped 40% of sites without gasoline.

Further north in Georgia, around 30% of Savannah and Thomasville’s gas stations were out of fuel, according to GasBuddy.

In Florida, a combination of power outages and supply issues have rendered fueling sites unable to pump gasoline, especially in the far southern part of the state and along the I-95 corridor, DeHaan said. Meanwhile, the western part of the state and areas along I-75 are seeing more supply issues.

Supply issues are easing, with three of Florida's four biggest ports at full capacity or near it, James Miller, communications director of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association (FPMA), Tallahassee, Fla., told CSP Daily News. The hurricane heavily damaged Port Jacksonville, which may not be up and running for some time.

“Our petroleum members are shipping gas into the state as quickly as possible and via as many means as possible,” said Miller. “We have tanker trucks coming from out of state and a number of cargo ships unloading fuel as quickly as possible at our ports. We also have police escorts for those tanker trucks to help expedite delivery.”

One problem is knowing which areas of the state and stores have power, and which sites have staff available to operate them. “Finally, we’re trying to determine which roads/bridges are passable so trucks don’t spend hours driving to a location only to find out they can’t access it,” said Miller.

Price declines ahead

Demand, meanwhile, is growing.

“You had the largest mass evacuation in state history prior to Irma, where 6 million people filled up their vehicles with gas, and you have the return of those 6 million residents in the next 24 to 72 hours, many of whom drove hundreds of miles away, so they’ll be traveling great distances throughout Florida to get home,” said Miller.

Although there have been reports of motorists waiting for an hour or more to fuel up at some sites that do have fuel, this issue too is improving. GasBuddy had measured a “dwell time”—or how much time a consumer is spending in close proximity to a gas station—of up to 60 minutes in Miami just before Hurricane Irma’s landfall over the weekend.

“After the storm, things are improving,” DeHaan said, noting that GasBuddy is receiving more fuel-price and supply-status data from its app members, which indicates they are making more visits.

Fuel prices are also in calmer waters, especially from a few days ago, when GasBuddy found 24% of gas stations in Florida were selling gasoline for 20 cents or more above the $2.71-per-gallon state average on Sept. 10. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said that her office had received more than 8,000 complaints to its Price-Gouging Hotline as of Sept. 9, with most related to fuel, bottled water, food and ice prices, the Sun Sentinel reported.

Meanwhile in Texas, many areas in the southern part of the state continue to recover from Hurricane Harvey. In San Antonio, 20% of gas stations are still without fuel, according to GasBuddy data. “We are now hearing that mid- and premium grades are being left behind in Texas,” said DeHaan. Ethanol shipments to the state have been delayed, which has encouraged fuel retailers to focus on blending what supply they do have into regular-grade gasoline.

GasBuddy expects the national retail average for regular gasoline, which reached $2.653 per gallon on Sept. 13 after topping out at about $2.67 in the days before Hurricane Irma made landfall, to continue to decline. “I would not be surprised to see it move down 10 to 15 cents in the next week or two,” said DeHaan. “Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas may be slower because they are more constrained on fuel, but the decrease should accelerate.”

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