Operators Struggle to Keep Pace with Gas Shortage

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Operators Struggle to Keep Pace with Gas Shortage

NEW YORK -- As gasoline shortages mount in the wake of Hurricane Ike, c-store operators are beginning to see in-store sales figures drop, which underscores a growing fear in an economy on the brink.

Ann Carswell, owner of Carswell’s Package Store in Morganton, N.C., told the News Herald her inside sales drop drastically when the station runs out of gas. Since she makes the majority of her profit from food and drink sales, Carswell’s times are getting tough.

Her station went for a more than a week without gas before receiving a delivery. It ran out again Wednesday afternoon, she told the paper.

Carswell said many motorists "panic pump"—fill their tanks when they only need a few gallons, a practice she believes contributes to the problem and worsens the shortage.

"Gas lines actually hurt inside sales because no one can take the time to go inside because the parking lots are so crowded," Edward Holmes, owner of North Carolina’s Holmes Oil, which operates 23 stores under the Exxon and BP brand, told The Associated Press.

As many central North Carolina operators remain without gas, or institute rationing, Gov. Mike Easley is promising that help is on the way.

"The major oil companies have agreed to make additional gas supplies available to hard-hit areas of our state, particularly western North Carolina," Easley told the Winston-Salem Journal. "We are getting tankers from Wilmington, Tennessee and South Carolina terminals to bring hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas to those most in need."

As operators struggle to survive, major oil companies, which collectively own only 5 percent of convenience stores, are working around the clock to get up to speed. In a statement, Exxon Mobil Corp. said its 348,500 barrel per day (bpd) Beaumont, Texas, refinery initiated its restart plan following Hurricane Ike on Thursday with some units scheduled to begin this week.

"Repairs are ongoing to many areas of the facility within the refinery and chemical plant," Exxon said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported Hurricanes Gustav and Ike destroyed 52 offshore platforms and four drilling rigs, 29 platforms and one rig suffered extensive damage and 33 platforms suffered moderate damage. Six gas transmission pipeline systems were damaged, and the analysis of industry infrastructure is not yet finished.

Juan Kemp, Shell Gulf coast operations manager, told the paper demand was three times higher than normal. Shell, he noted, sought to limit disruptions by leasing 35 generators it could deploy within 24 hours along the Gulf coast, however, Shell still has up to 50 sites without power.