The Fuse

Fights Break Out at Gasoline Stations in Texas, Florida

by Matt Piotrowski | September 15, 2017

Supply constraints can turn out to be self-perpetuating. When drivers fear a gasoline shortage may emerge, they will resort to panic buying.

The two hurricanes that recently struck the U.S. triggered disruptions on the country’s gasoline fuel supplies. A number of gasoline stations in Texas ran out of fuel due to refinery outages, and Florida saw supply shortfalls, too, when motorists scrambled to fill up their tanks during the evacuation ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Like a scene out of the movie Zoolander, fights have occurred at gasoline stations in hurricane-affected areas.

Supply constraints can turn out to be self-perpetuating. When drivers fear a gasoline shortage may emerge, they will resort to panic buying. This surge in demand may in fact actually lead to a shortage, which exacerbates discontent and anxiety among consumers.

Worries about fuel shortages sparked ire and fear in drivers, and some resorted to violence in their quest for fuel. In Miami, for instance, one man was caught on camera pulling a gun on another motorist at a gas station. The man with the gun did not shoot, but it showed an extreme case that developed from the spate of panic buying. Even though most gas station conflicts did not include guns, the evacuation from Florida facilitated a number of fights and dry fuel pumps. CBS News reported that gasoline shortages were “rampant” ahead of the storm.

One driver told the AFP that she had “heard rumors of fights breaking out at gas stations, and experienced a tense standoff herself when two drivers blocked her in at a pump, each wanting to fill their tanks after her and each refusing to yield and allow her to exit. Eventually, one relented.”

Florida Governor Rick Scott, understanding the magnitude of the situation, asked state law enforcement to escort trucks carrying gasoline. The Department of Homeland Security waived the Jones Act for areas impacted by the storms, allowing foreign-flagged vessels to transport fuel from one U.S. port to another. Even though these measures provided some relief, long lines persisted at gas stations during the evacuation.

In one circumstance, a driver threatened to slash the tires of one customer who cut in line at a station in San Antonio.

In Texas, after Hurricane Harvey, shut-in refineries, pipelines going offline, power outages, and flooded roads caused supply shortfalls at gas stations throughout the state. In one circumstance (caught on YouTube here), a driver threatened to slash the tires of one customer who cut in line at a station in San Antonio. The scene catches drivers honking their horns, using profanity, and bickering with each other. In Dallas, one man grabbed a pump from another and poured gasoline on the other’s car. Local news covered the incident. “The fuel shortage, along with price spikes, are causing long lines at the gas pump and tensions as some gas stations (temporarily) ran out of fuel,” said one local TV station after describing the stand-off between the two men at the 7-Eleven.

Gasoline prices rise, but level off

Hurricane Harvey caused the closure of as much as 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity, reducing the amount of gasoline available to consumers. Despite the lost supply, the U.S. is not currently experiencing a shortage of gasoline supplies, but localized areas have dealt with supply crunches because of logistical bottlenecks.

Not only did consumers in Texas have to contend with long lines and possible station outages; they also saw prices rise sharply. Texas typically enjoys lower fuel prices than most of the country due to the fact that 31 percent of U.S. refining capacity operates in the state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, however, pump prices in Texas saw the largest increase nationally, rising by 40 cents per gallon from August 28 to September 4.

Gulf Coast refinery runs are still 3.6 million barrels per day (31 percent) lower than pre-Harvey levels, while power outages and impassable roads could continue to affect gasoline supplies in Florida.

Both states are starting to see a shift back to the status quo. However, Gulf Coast refinery runs are still 3.6 million barrels per day (31 percent) lower than pre-Harvey levels, while power outages and impassable roads could continue to affect gasoline supplies in Florida. U.S. retail prices for regular unleaded have now leveled off at $2.65 per gallon, according to AAA, up 30 cents per gallon versus a month ago. When compared to year-ago levels, gasoline prices are 22 percent higher, the result of OPEC supply cuts, high demand, and recent storm-related refinery outages. U.S. gasoline inventories declined last week by 8.4 million barrels, the largest weekly fall on record, but they still remain in the five-year range.

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