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When Storms Strike, America’s Access to Electricity and Gasoline is Threatened

When Storms Strike, America’s Access to Electricity and Gasoline is Threatened

July 24,2019

With hurricane season upon the Atlantic, AAA is sharing this information to better educate Americans on what happens when fuel emergencies occur and urges everyone to have a preparedness plan and supplies in place.

One hurricane (Barry) is already in the books for 2019 and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts the potential for up to 14 additional Atlantic named storms by the time hurricane seasons ends on November 30. These storms can prove life threatening and devastating, while also exposing our nation’s reliance on both electricity and gasoline to fuel response and recovery efforts.

Without gasoline, diesel fuel and/or electricity, keeping yourself and family safe during a natural disaster can quickly become challenging. Take for example that a medical facility may be relying on diesel-powered generators to provide life-saving services in the event of a blackout. When the power goes out, there is only so much diesel supply available to keep the generators running at the facility. At home without electricity, you’re concerned about your own personal comfort, the possible spoilage of refrigerated food or that your cell phone is losing its charge and you’ll lose access to the latest news on the storm’s impact. Meanwhile, your local gas station may face a gasoline shortage or, without power to the station, that retailer may have to turn away customers and gasoline deliveries.

It’s all inter-connected. How quickly gasoline and diesel shortages can be replenished is largely dependent on how fast electricity is restored and how quickly fuel can be transported to local gas stations.

When a storm has passed and electricity restored, impacted refineries that produce gasoline can begin to drain floodwaters, repair damaged equipment and undertake any measure necessary to bring back a refinery’s production capacity to normal. This process can take days to weeks, depending on the severity of the storm and state of the refinery’s infrastructure – ultimately resulting in limited gasoline production and reduced supplies for a region.

Foreign imports of gasoline, pipelines and other transportation methods can help improve supply. While supply can decrease ahead of a storm with people filling-up, consumer demand for gasoline typically decreases post-storm as those in the affected area deal with clean-up.

Combined, all of these efforts take time and potentially impact pump prices temporarily for local markets and the region. A storm could have a national impact on pump prices, depending on the number of refineries affected and if domestic crude inventories tighten.

Recognizing the increasing complexity of our country’s dependence on gasoline during natural disasters, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve, the first federal regional refined petroleum product reserve, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The storm caused heavy damage to two refineries and left more than 40 import terminals in New York Harbor closed due to water damage and lack of electricity. This hampered emergency response efforts. Specifically, repair trucks that were needed to help restore electricity couldn’t fill-up due to limited gasoline and diesel stocks in the area. As a result, the federal government decided the Northeast region needed a stable fuel reserve it could tap into to get vehicles on the road and help to get the lights back on in the event of a future devastating storm. Additionally, the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve can play a vital role during a fuel emergency. For example, after Hurricane Katrina shuttered a quarter of our country’s total domestic crude production in 2005, the federal government provided over 20 million barrels of crude oil from the reserve to stabilize gas prices across the country when they spiked in reaction to reduced supply.   

With 2019’s hurricane season upon us, AAA is sharing this information to better educate Americans on what happens when fuel emergencies occur and urges everyone to have a preparedness plan in place.