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Gas terminals work furiously to pump up local supplies

Posted September 30, 2008

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— A steady stream of tanker trucks pulled into a local terminal of a major gasoline pipeline Tuesday as distributors worked hard to resupply North Carolina retailers whose pumps have run dry.

Refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast that were damaged by Hurricane Ike more than two weeks ago have been slow coming back online, meaning the pipelines that serve the Southeast have been running at less than capacity. Many retailers have run out of gas, or some grades of gas, across the region, and drivers have waited in line up for hours to fill up at stations that have fuel.

"The distribution chain from the major oil companies at the refineries and pipelines is just coming up to full strength," said Gary Harris, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Marketers Association. "As that product comes up, it has to be distributed into a system that was drained almost white last week by the shortages that went through there. We're trying to catch up on supply and keep meeting demand, which is extremely difficult."

Gas moves through the pipeline at about 4 mph, so it takes 10 days to two weeks to get from Texas to North Carolina, he said.

Although most truck drivers at the Selma terminal Tuesday afternoon said they were headed toward Raleigh, Harris said that doesn't necessarily mean all area stations will be immediately flush with fuel.

"The distribution system is kind of complicated, and people don't tend to view it in that stance," he said. "It's (not) like you can just run a truck somewhere and pull fuel and move it."

Fuel is allocated to different distributors across North Carolina, so once one has tapped its entire allotment, it can't get more until a new shipment arrives, he said. Also, some oil companies said they aren't releasing their full allocation to Raleigh-area distributors because they want to be sure they have enough gas to last until their next shipment arrives through the pipeline.

Before Ike, for example, distributors might have filled 15 tankers at a time through the Selma terminal. Now, they likely are limited to 10 tankers.

That has led some retailers to scramble and turn to other terminals, including Wilmington, Charleston, S.C., and Virginia.

"The majors have diverted tankers into the Chesapeake (Bay) and Charleston harbor, and there's a port terminal in Wilmington where Hess has a distribution area," Harris said. "Exxon has a tanker in there now moving product into North Carolina."

The Triangle is more fortunate than Charlotte and western North Carolina because it is straddled by terminals in Selma, Apex and Greensboro, he said.

Despite that drivers around the Triangle were still finding some gas stations empty on Tuesday.

“Tina Wilbanks said she drove several miles before finding a gas station in Durham that had a tanker truck in the parking lot.

“I saw the truck so I said, ‘let me stop ‘cause apparently they are getting gas,’” Wilbanks said.

Gas station owners said long lines have left them with little supply.

23 Comments

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  • frosty Oct 1, 2008

    The fuel in the pipeline does not go to just one terminal but most of of them in the southeast. They have to share the pipeline. So the product in the pipeline is scheduled in advance and not on a regular basis. They have to make some guesses to distribute the fuel and try and meet the demand at all the terminals. And when supplies are short there are going to be dry spots. And they will not release all they get locally at once to try to keep some supply avaliable. If they did not you could get all you wanted today but no one would have any next week for example.

    And the trucks can't just run to any terminal and get gas. To insure safety, each driver and the trailer he loads has to be approved and certified by each terminal and the company he is loading for has to have an account with that terminal.

    And,just lil ole me, your gas is comming from a diferent supply system. Quite possibly Canada.

  • Garnerwolf1 Oct 1, 2008

    Interesting how the lack of gas is slowly moving east. Last week and weekend, Asheville and Charlotte were out. Now it seems to have moved here, while articles I've read indicate the gas is flowig again in the pipelines. I realize that it has to be trucked to the actual stations, but I think there may be something more to this story than just the pipeline shutting down.

  • Just lil ole me Oct 1, 2008

    Wow, it is 100 miles further from Houston to up here in Wisconsin than it is to Raleigh. Perhaps gas moves faster going uphill than it does side slope to Raleigh. We haven't had a single station run out of gas. I think this has more to do with panic buying by the public than it does with true shortages. What else can explain it? We get our gas from the same place and have not had a problem!

  • Weetie Oct 1, 2008

    If the oil prices go up, they have no problem sending gas prices up...if oil prices go down it makes no difference.
    This is politics for you.

  • aanda8104 Oct 1, 2008

    Downeast we are running dry to. I don't know how many stations I passed yesterday with bags on the pumps or the pumps roped off. This is really going to suck if we dry up any faster, I won't be able to get to back and forth to work. (live in Rocky Mount work in Wilson)

  • Weetie Oct 1, 2008

    I sure hope you are right NCcarguy.

  • dhamma Oct 1, 2008

    as of 10am most of the stations in RTP along 54/55 were either totally out or had limited supplies

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy Oct 1, 2008

    actually....based on the price of oil these days, gas should be around $2.75/gal.....It's funny how quickly it would jump even before the price of oil, and how slowly it's coming back down. It'll fix itself though, since everyone abandoned thier trucks, and suv's and are now driving around in a SPEC.....the demand is going to continue to drop like a rock, it won't be long and they're going to have a hard time making any money....the price wars will begin, and we'll all see lower prices at the pump.

  • OLD PIRATE 2 Oct 1, 2008

    Whine, Whine Whine... "Should be ??$2. gallon" If you only knew what was going on to try to get you gas, you wouldn't be in Whine mode. Some fuels are coming down and some went way up last night. Be thankful you get any right now. Big Oil has done a good job at trying to get back on line. This too shall pass.

  • Garnerwolf1 Oct 1, 2008

    Noticed that the new station near my house, the one that opened the day before, then went up 90 cents a gallon on the Friday Ike came through, was closed and apparently did not have gas this morning.

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