Is there a gasoline shortage?

Early yesterday morning, and I do mean early, I switched on the news as I made my first mug of coffee. This is my morning ritual of sorts. News, coffee and then checking the headlines of the local papers before moving onto national and international news. Needless to say, much of what I heard as I went through the motions of making coffee had to do with Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. That was expected. Harvey’s aftermath is going to be with Texas for a long time. What surprised me, however, was news that gas prices had jumped more than a little. At that point, they had gone up a minimum of $0.20/gal. As someone who’s spent most of her life in Texas, I know how important the Houston and Gulf Coast areas of Texas are to the petroleum industry. Had Harvey pushed us into a gasoline shortage?

Dallas Gas Line

A 7-Eleven employee tries to keep order as cars in West Dallas stream toward gas pumps, trying to fill up amid a panic in Dallas-Fort Worth about rising prices and shortage of fuel in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on oil production on Aug. 31,. Brandon Formby

Having lived through the gasoline rationing of the 1970’s, I knew what a shortage could be like for those of us in the Lone Star State. Texas is a wonderful place to live — except when you can’t find fuel. Many of us drive 50 miles or more each way to work on a daily basis. Mass transit in most areas is minimal at best. Add to that this is a holiday weekend and more cars will be on the road. So…off I went to find the car keys to check to see how much gas I had in the tank.

Half a tank. That would be enough to get us through the weekend but not much further. It was also where I usually tried to fill up. That’s a habit born of years of having a family member with a critical illness, of having friends ill as well, and never knowing when I’d be called out. So, off I went to dress and go fill up before everyone on their way to work decided to do the same thing.

Several of the bureaucrats have said not to worry as long as you have half a tank of gas. I’ll admit to laughing, albeit a bit hysterically, at that. Obviously that person has never been stuck in traffic in Dallas. I’ve burned through close to half a tank stuck on 635 more than once. So pardon those of us who have lived through this before if we know better.

With the news still playing in the background, I started hearing of stations in the DFW area reporting they were out of gas and didn’t know when their next delivery would come in. QuickTrip was recommending their customers download their mobile app where they kept fuel status for their stations up-to-date. So I checked and, yep, the station I usually go to was dry. Another station, only a little further away had gas.

Off I went, not wanting to wait any longer and run the risk of that station running out as well. By the time I got there, the station was busy but not much more than usual on a work day morning. When I went inside to pay (which is one reason I don’t normally go to that station. The printer at the pumps always seems to be broken), the clerk checking me out said they were down to 700 gallons and didn’t know when they would get more. Word from Corporate was they would try to keep the stations along the highways stocked but even that was iffy until the situation along the coast eased up.

You can imagine my response when, later in the day, I saw Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton saying there is no fuel shortage. He put the blame on consumers panicking and trying to fill up when they really didn’t need to. Now, while this might technically be correct, there is more to the story than he admitted. I understand he needs to put a positive spin on the current situation, but Texans have “been there, done that” before. We know how storms like Harvey can impact the fuel industry, and do so for a long while.

One thing Sitton didn’t take into account with his statement is the fact stations and their corporate offices were already letting consumers know they weren’t getting fuel deliveries as planned and that it would impact supplies at least over the weekend and possibly long. Then you have to look at the fact that, while we knew prices would climb over the Labor Day Weekend — they always do — they don’t climb as much or as quickly as they did between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. People tend to think about their pocketbook in situations like this and that is exactly what happened yesterday.

In this situation, the problem isn’t that there’s not enough fuel. The problem is getting fuel to the stations from the refineries along the coast. The problem is making sure pipelines and transit ways — be they roadways, rail or water — are passable. Or, as one reporter put it this morning as he sat in a boat in the middle of a flooded area, “Beaumont doesn’t have a water shortage. It has a problem with getting drinkable water.” Yes, there is plenty of fuel. The problem is getting it to the stations right now.

Seeing stories in the media about how Texans are panicking aren’t helping the situation. Are there some folks filling up who don’t need to? You bet. But guess what? Anyone who has ever lived through a fuel shortage, especially one where price are increasing on a daily basis, would as well. That doesn’t equate to panic. It equates to us having been there before and understanding that the distribution chain isn’t going to be back to normal in a day or two.

Yes, it will improve as the waters recede. But all the tanks where the fuel has been stored will have to be checked and the fuel tested before it can be shipped. Then the distributors are going to have to find the trucks to move it from one place to another — and trains, etc. A number of those trucks, etc., have been damaged or destroyed by the floodwaters. Others will have to be checked to make sure they weren’t too badly damaged and can safely haul the fuel from Point A to Point B.

As for today, I just checked the QuikTrip app on my phone. Of the 10 stations located within 10 miles of my home, 6 are out of gas. The price for unleaded is up to $2.65/gal. That is almost $0.20/gal more than I paid yesterday morning. Yet, as I sit here writing this post, the news is telling us that there is no problem getting gas and prices really aren’t going up all that much. If i have to choose between believing what the bureaucrats say and what I’m seeing for myself, I’ll believe what I see.

Paper City Photo. Article by Chris Baldwin.

There might not be a true “shortage”. But, when you can’t find affordable gas, or any gas, for your car, you really don’t give a flying rat’s ass if it is a shortage or a distribution problem. No gas means no gas. All we can do is be smart with our driving over the weekend and keep an eye on the local stations, refilling when we need to. This situation will pass. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.

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1 Comment

  1. Posted September 1, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    There’s plenty of “Product X”, we just can’t get any here. That’s considered a “shortage” to most people.

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