Long Gas Lines Still Plague Storm-Ravaged NY, NJ Motorists

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- One week after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, drivers throughout New Jersey and New York still face lengthy lines to fill their tanks, as some gas stations remain without power and others have run out of fuel as a result of spiked demand. Lawmakers and fuel suppliers are taking steps to ease the pain and avoid future weather-caused shortages as the region recovers.

Hess Corp. is keeping a close watch on which of its Hess Express stations have gas and providing a continually updated information sheet at www.hessexpress.com/FuelInformation. The list of stores in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia shows how many gallons of each fuel grade are available at each site.

The effect that power outages have had on fuel availability has prompted several lawmakers to propose legislation that would require gas station operators to have backup power, according to a LoHud.com report. N.Y. State Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown, Rockland County) based his proposed bill on a 2007 Florida law that requires all gas stations and wholesalers to have a generator capable of supplying a minimum of 72 hours of power in case of emergency.

"We need to face the reality that these 100-year storms are now occurring on a regular basis," Carlucci said in a statement. "This legislation will provide a safeguard to our energy supply and will allow us to double-down our efforts to ensure that when disaster strikes, we can rebound to recovery."

Features of the bill include:

  • Terminal facilities and wholesalers that sell motor fuels would have to be capable of operating their loading racks using an electric generator for at least 72 hours, and the generator power would have to be available no more than 24 hours after a major disaster.
  • Newly constructed or substantially renovated motor fuel retail outlets that receive a certificate of occupancy on or after July 1, 2013, must be able to operate all fuel pumps, dispensing equipment, life safety systems and payment acceptance equipment using an alternative generated power source.
  • Each motor fuel retail outlet located within half a mile of an an interstate highway or state/federally designated evacuation route must be able to operate all fuel pumps, dispensing equipment, life safety systems and payment acceptance equipment using an alternative generated power source.
  • Each motor fuel retail outlet must have a transfer switch installed by a professional electrical contractor and keep a copy of the documentation of the installation at its site or corporate headquarters. They must also keep a written statement proclaiming they have performed testing and ensured the equipment is working.

In New Jersey, Assemblymen Ralph Caputo (D-Essex) and Joseph Cryan (D-Union) announced plans to introduce similar legislation, but with the addition that they plan to provide low-interest government loans to help gas station operators pay for the equipment, according to an AssemblyDems.com press release.

"It's frustrating to think that the gasoline crisis hitting our state through power outages could have been avoided, but with this bill, we'll make sure future power outages don't push New Jerseyans into long and stressful lines," said Caputo. "But while we better plan for the future, we also need to be cognizant of the need to help out gas station owners, many of whom are independent small business owners who would be hit hard by such an upgrade. We can do that with low-interest loans and get this done for the benefit of everyone."

Cryan added, "With improved planning, we can make sure we don't see a repeat of this problem due to power outages. This is a smart and sensible step, but also one that can prove costly to the business people that run these stations, so we can help ease the burden with low-interest loans. This will help consumers and businesses alike, and is the best approach to actually getting this done."

Caputo and Cryan are having the bill drafted and will introduce it as soon as possible, according to the announcement.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie announced a new hotline that gas stations can use to self-report service problems. Station operators can call (609) 858-6900 or e-mail [email protected] to report issues such as power outages and fuel shortages, or non-pump issues such as road access, according to a Newsroom Jersey report.

"Right now, we know there is a problem with access to gas in many parts of our state as a result of impact of Hurricane Sandy, but we don't have complete information on the nature of those issues or where they are occurring," Gov. Christie said in a released statement. "If a station isn't getting gas to people, we need to know, so we can direct the right resources to where they are needed. This hotline will allow us to collect this critical information on gas station issues -- whether it is a supply problem, a power outage or an issue of access due to flooding or downed trees -- and help speed up our recovery efforts, period."

Gov. Christie also instituted fuel rationing in certain counties as of Saturday, allowing drivers to fuel up every other day based on whether the last number on their car's license plate is odd or even.  

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