- Bob Sechler American-Statesman Staff
Long lines for gasoline in Austin and elsewhere in the state have dissipated for the most part along with the short-lived, social media-fueled frenzy over fears of a severe shortage.
Motorists remain more likely than before Hurricane Harvey hit to encounter the occasional empty filling stations, and gas prices remain elevated, but “the run (on gas) has stopped,” said Cary Rabb, owner of the Round Rock-based Wag-A-Bag convenience store chain.
“It’s the panic buying that has stopped — at some point, everybody has topped off,” Rabb said.
In addition, gasoline supplies are becoming more accessible as Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines slowly come back on line after being closed since Harvey made landfall.
Flint Hills Resources — which operates a Corpus Christi refinery that provides the bulk of gasoline dispensed at Austin area gas stations — “has resumed normal operations,” company spokesman Andy Saenz said Wednesday. The Flint Hills refinery had been shut down since the storm hit, leaving area fuel distributors to tap reserves.
Flint Hills pumps gasoline to an Austin terminal east of Interstate 35 through a pipeline, where it’s picked up by distributors with tanker trucks and transported to local gas stations. Rabb said he expected new supplies from Flint Hills to reach the Austin terminal sometime Wednesday via the pipeline.
Still, it could be two weeks or more before output from the Gulf Coast’s huge energy complex returns to pre-Harvey levels, according to industry experts.
“We are starting to see things normalize, but there is still a slight disruption in fuel supply distribution,” said Jesus Azanza, a spokesman for the Texas Food and Fuel Association, which represents about 12,000 convenience stores, grocery stores and truck stops that sell gasoline. “That is going to continue to exist until floodwaters recede” and all of the refineries can operate at pre-hurricane capacity again.
The situation is manageable with only minor inconveniences, he and others said, provided motorists buy only the gas they need.
Many consumers appeared to panic beginning around noon last Thursday, when lengthy lines began forming at gas stations in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and elsewhere in the state. The buying spree lasted through much of the long Labor Day weekend before tapering off.
“It was crazy,” said Rabb, who has 18 Wag-A-Bag stores. “Our supply just can’t handle everyone filling up on the same day.”
He said he opted to let about five of his lower-volume stores run out of fuel in order to keep the others supplied. “We’re hopeful we’ll be back to normal tomorrow,” he said on Wednesday.
Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, one of a number of state officials who attempted to calm consumers last week and quash the panic-driven buying, said Wednesday that the state’s fuel distribution issue “continues to improve and will likely be resolved within the next day or two.”
In a written statement, Sitton urged Texans “to fill up if you need to, but not to hoard fuel which is dangerous and hurts everyone else.” The situation “will be resolved this week if people purchase gas in a thoughtful and responsible manner,” he said. The Texas Railroad Commission regulates the state’s oil and gas industry.
Sitton said the state did not suffer a true gas shortage, but “some areas have experienced outages at gas pumps due to exponentially higher demand than normal as people stockpile fuel.”