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The Truth Behind New York's Epic Gasoline Lines

Author: Blake Clayton, Adjunct Fellow for Energy
November 12, 2012
Forbes Online

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Hurricane Sandy is two weeks past, but the havoc the storm wreaked on energy markets along the East Coast is far from over. Hours-long gas lines and the occasional street fight over a gallon of gasoline continue to be a problem, leaving people wondering what's going on.

Before trying to shed some light on that, it's worth remembering what a complex process it is to move oil from the ground all the way to a gas tank. It requires a tremendous amount of coordination and infrastructure, even in normal times. There are an awful lot of moving parts. But with power down, storage facilities damaged, roads closed, etc., an already-delicate process can turn into a real nightmare. The ongoing problems at New York City gas stations right now are a case in point.

Here's the situation, according to the latest reports:

As of Friday, 28 percent of gas stations in the New York metro area still did not have gas for sale, per the U.S. Department of Energy's latest numbers. That's bad, but it was a whole lot worse a week ago, when 67 percent of them didn't have gas for sale. (Those numbers include stations that U.S. officials assumed were closed because they couldn't be reached for a status update "after numerous attempts.") The situation is improving, but slowly—the percentage of gas stations that are in operation has gradually increased from just 33 percent on November 2 to 72 percent on November 9, according to Department of Energy survey data.

What's gone wrong? The major problems have been 1) getting power to gas stations so they can pump gas and 2) getting gas to gas stations as the problems have worn on.

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