By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller
It began as a news report, quickly spreading to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and by last Thursday afternoon concerns about a gas shortage on Long Island had morphed into the real thing.
For a week now, getting gasoline for a car, or generator, has become a process sometimes lasting hours. Without the right intelligence, either from Facebook and Twitter posts, or websites like www.gasbuddy.com, it can also lead people on mad searches for an open gas pump, unsure where they will be able to find the next place to fill-up.
Last Friday morning, at Harbor Heights Gas Station on Route 114 in Sag Harbor, a line of more than 30 cars waited patiently, hoping to fill up the gas tank as fears of the shortage spread across the East End. Many gas stations started closing once they were out of fuel. At one point, the line to Harbor Heights on Friday snaked back to St. Andrew’s Church and began clogging the busy roadway, prompting Sag Harbor Village Police to monitor the situation to ensure Route 114 remained open to traffic despite the gas line.
“Everyone has been waiting nice, normal and patient,” said Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano on Friday.
According to station attendant Pam Kern, who had been working the pumps alone that morning after a full day of work on Thursday, once Harbor Heights Gas Station ran out of fuel it expected to receive a new shipment on Monday or Tuesday of this week. However, both the Sag Harbor Getty on the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike and Harbor Heights remained shuttered as of Wednesday evening.
But stations in East Hampton and Southampton have intermittently been receiving shipments of fuel, usually in the morning, leading to long lines of cars and trucks waiting to fill up for fear of a larger fuel shortage.
On Monday afternoon, the Shell Station in Hampton Bays offered customers 10 gallons of free gasoline, supplied by a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) fuel truck that arrived from New Jersey.
At the root of the issue is the devastation further west left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — coined Super Storm Sandy — which made landfall in southern New Jersey on Monday, October 29. Because of mass electrical outages and the closing of key ports by the United States Coast Guard in anticipation of the storm, simply getting gas to Long Island became a challenge.
The pipelines and terminals providing gasoline to distribution networks on Long Island were also disrupted due to power outages that reduced flow capacity.
Last Thursday, Senator Charles Schumer announced the Port of New York would re-open for fuel services in an effort to bring more fuel into the region.
According to Schumer’s office and the Energy Department, New York Harbor is the busiest oil port in the world, receiving an average of 900,000 barrels of petroleum products per day. According to a Reuters report, the New York Harbor is a critical hub for the region, with some 75 million barrels of storage capacity that allows companies to import, blend and trade everything from gasoline to jet fuel before trucking it to airports or fuel pumps.
On Sunday, November 4, Congressman Tim Bishop’s office announced that the Energy Department has established a team to assist local authorities in efforts to get gas stations back online.
Congressman Bishop said the Energy Department has established a toll-free number at 1-866-402-3775 which gas station owners and managers can call if they need assistance restoring power or securing supplies of gasoline.
“The situation will continue to improve in the coming days as gas deliveries increase, but this new federal effort to link service station owners with the resources they need to serve the public is a critical step in returning the system to normal,” said Bishop.
Earlier in the week, Bishop also encouraged residents to report if they felt they were being price gouged at the pumps. Motorists are advised to hold onto their receipts and contact the Suffolk County Consumer Affairs Hotline at 1-800-909-5423.
On Monday, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., a Sag Harbor resident, said residents should use resources like www.gasbuddy.com or www.hessexpress.com to find out where gasoline can be found in their towns and villages.
On Wednesday, Thiele lamented that while gas lines appeared to be getting shorter on Monday and Tuesday, with the nor’easter approaching, the shortage had become worse on the South Fork, although he cautioned residents that the shortage was by no means a issue he believed would be a long term problem for Long Island.
According to www.gasbuddy.com, as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday evening, only the Mobil Gas Station on County Road 39 and North Sea Road had gas reserves in Southampton Town. In Water Mill the Hess Station at Montauk Highway and Scuttlehole Road was also distributing gas, as was the Empire gas station on North Main Street in East Hampton.
“It appears like there is not as much gas on the South Fork as there has been in recent days, but suffice to say while there is some gas available, we are not back to normal and my conversations with the governor’s office have started getting a little tense,” said Thiele.
Thiele said particularly because of the nor’easter, and with some residents relying on gas supplies to run their generators, it was critical that government officials amp up their efforts to restore gas supplies and energy, not just to the East End but across Long Island.
“I know this was a monumental storm,” said Thiele, “but it seems to me while there was a great initial response, things are starting to plateau a little in terms of the response, and that concerns me. We need to redouble our efforts before the next storm hits. It’s November. There are going to be more storms.”