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Scarce gas leads to ever-bigger lines at NJ pumps

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 11:07 a.m. MDT

Caution tape surrounds the pumps of a closed gas station on Northern Boulevard, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in the Queens borough of New York.  The price of oil is rising as operations at refineries and supply terminals in the Northeast remain restricted three days after Superstorm Sandy. Benchmark oil gained 60 cents Thursday to $86.84 per barrel in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) (Associated Press) Caution tape surrounds the pumps of a closed gas station on Northern Boulevard, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in the Queens borough of New York. The price of oil is rising as operations at refineries and supply terminals in the Northeast remain restricted three days after Superstorm Sandy. Benchmark oil gained 60 cents Thursday to $86.84 per barrel in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) (Associated Press)

NEW YORK — There's plenty of gasoline in the Northeast — just not at gas stations.

In parts of New York and New Jersey, drivers lined up Thursday for hours at gas stations that were struggling to stay supplied. The power outages and flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy have forced many gas stations to close and disrupted the flow of fuel from refineries to those stations that are open.

At the same time, millions of gallons of gasoline are sitting at the ready in storage tanks, pipelines and tankers that can't unload their cargoes.

"It's like a stopped up drain," said Tom Kloza, Chief Oil Analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

Superstorm Sandy mangled ports that accept fuel tankers and flooded underground equipment that sends fuel through pipelines. Without power, fuel terminals can't pump gasoline onto tanker trucks, and gas stations can't pump fuel into customers' cars.

Chris Zaturoski uses a garden hose to attempt to siphon gasoline from his car to use in a generator at his house which is without power in the wake of superstorm Sandy on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in Little Ferry, N.J. The hose was too big to fit into the gas tank of the car.  New Jersey residents across the state were urged to conserve water. At least 1.7 million customers remained without electricity.   (Mike Groll, Associated Press) Chris Zaturoski uses a garden hose to attempt to siphon gasoline from his car to use in a generator at his house which is without power in the wake of superstorm Sandy on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in Little Ferry, N.J. The hose was too big to fit into the gas tank of the car. New Jersey residents across the state were urged to conserve water. At least 1.7 million customers remained without electricity. (Mike Groll, Associated Press)

The Energy Department reported Thursday that 13 of the region's 33 fuel terminals were closed. Sections of two major pipelines that serve the area — the Colonial Pipeline and the Buckeye Pipeline — were also closed.

Thousands of gas stations in New Jersey and Long Island were closed because of a lack of power. AAA estimates that 60 percent of the stations in New Jersey are shut along with up to 70 percent of the stations in Long Island.

On Thursday morning, the traffic to a Hess station on 9th Avenue in New York City filled two lanes of the avenue for two city blocks. Four police officers were directing the slow parade of cars into the station.

A few blocks away, a Mobil station sat empty behind orange barricades, with a sign explaining it was out of gas.

Taxi and car service drivers were running dry — and giving up, even though demand for rides was high because of the crippled public transit system. Northside Car Service in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has 250 drivers available on a typical Thursday evening. This Thursday, they had just 20. "The gas lines are too long," said Thomas Miranda, an operator at Northside.

A police officer directs traffic as a line of motorists stretches down Frenchtown Road Thursday morning, Nov. 1, 2012 as customers wait to enter a gas station in Milford Borough, N.J. The price of oil is rising as operations at refineries and supply terminals in the Northeast remain restricted three days after Superstorm Sandy. Benchmark oil gained 60 cents Thursday to $86.84 per barrel in New York.  (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Stephen Flood) (Associated Press) A police officer directs traffic as a line of motorists stretches down Frenchtown Road Thursday morning, Nov. 1, 2012 as customers wait to enter a gas station in Milford Borough, N.J. The price of oil is rising as operations at refineries and supply terminals in the Northeast remain restricted three days after Superstorm Sandy. Benchmark oil gained 60 cents Thursday to $86.84 per barrel in New York. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Stephen Flood) (Associated Press)

Betty Bethea, 59, waited nearly three hours to get to the front of the line at a Gulf station in Newark, but she brought reinforcements: Her kids were there with gas cans, and her husband was behind her in his truck.

Bethea had tried to drive to her job at a northern New Jersey Kohl's store on Thursday morning, only to find her low-fuel light on. She and her husband crisscrossed the region in search of gas and were shooed away by police at every closed station she encountered.

"It is crazy out here — people scrambling everywhere, cutting in front of people. I have never seen New Jersey like this," Bethea said.

But relief appeared to be on the way, even as the lines grew Thursday. The Environmental Protection Agency lifted requirements for low-smog gasoline, allowing deliveries of gasoline from other regions. Tanker trucks sped north from terminals in Baltimore and other points south with fuel.

Motorists looking for gasoline form a line of cars stretching over one mile from the Exit 98 service area on the southbound side of the Garden State Parkway, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Wall Township, N.J.  (The Star-Ledger, Brian Donohue)  TV OUT; MAGS OUT; INTERNET OUT; NO SALES; NO ARCHIVING; MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press) Motorists looking for gasoline form a line of cars stretching over one mile from the Exit 98 service area on the southbound side of the Garden State Parkway, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Wall Township, N.J. (The Star-Ledger, Brian Donohue) TV OUT; MAGS OUT; INTERNET OUT; NO SALES; NO ARCHIVING; MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press)

A big delivery of fuel was on its way south to Boston from a Canadian refinery. Ports and terminals remained open in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, and portions of the Colonial and Buckeye pipelines are expected to reopen today. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners expects to open its three terminals in New Jersey and New York over the next two days after bringing in backup generators.

And the U.S. Coast Guard opened the Port of New York and New Jersey to tankers Thursday.

Logistical problems will remain, though, for days. Barges can now visit terminals up the Hudson River and into Long Island Sound, but many of the major fuel hubs and terminals near the New York and New Jersey ports still can't offload fuel. They need to get electricity back, pump water out of flooded areas, and inspect equipment before starting operations again.

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