NJ Gas Distribution Network Faces Challenges After Sandy

Getting gas for cars and generators continues to pose challenges for residents in many parts of the New Jersey, a week after Sandy.

"The gas lines are very, very long. I'd say somewhere around two hours," said New Jersey Public Radio managing editor Nancy Solomon of the lines in Essex County Tuesday. "The gas supply has not gotten better."

Up to 70 percent of N.J. gas station are now open compared to 60 to 65 percent of stations Monday, according to AAA. Nevertheless, people looking to fill their tanks are consistently foiled by stations without gas, stations without power and stations with long lines.

New Jersey also faces several disruptions further down the state's oil and gas supply chain.

The largest refinery in the state โ€” the Phillips 66 refinery in Bayway โ€” remained closed Tuesday after saltwater from Sandy's storm surge damaged key electrical equipment. Phillips 66 is also cleaning up a 7,700-gallon oil spill that occurred during the storm.

The company said the facility will be offline for two to three weeks so the equipment can be replaced, meaning 238,000 fewer barrels of oil are being refined in the area every day.

"That is an enormous, enormous part of the fuel distribution system," said Eric DeGesero, executive vice president of the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey.

He said less gasoline coming out of Phillips 66 would impact not only New Jersey but much of the Northeast, including upstate New York.

There is also a problem at the terminals where tankers drop off oil and gasoline and where trucks pick it up for delivery to gas stations.

Nine of 57 terminals in the tri-state area remain shuttered, many of them in Northern New Jersey. As a result, DeGesero said oil and gas companies have had to send their trucks to Southern New Jersey, and even Baltimore, to fill up for deliveries in the New York City metro area.

At a storm briefing Tuesday, Governor Chris Christie insisted the state has the necessary supplies, and that the distribution network is back up and running.

"We do not have a fuel shortage in New Jersey, so you should not panic," Christie said. "Don't run at six o'clock in the morning to get in line at the gas station because you're afraid their going to run out of gas. They're not going to run out of gas."

The Christie administration instituted a 1970s-style rationing system over the weekend that has helped shorten gas lines at some stations. Drivers whose license plates end in an even number can only fill up on even-numbered days, while plates ending in an odd number can top up their tanks on odd-numbered days.

Governor Christie also said the National Guard, FEMA and the Department of Defense delivered 80,000 to 100,000 gallons of gas to stations in Hudson, Monmouth and Bergen counties Monday and Tuesday.

He said both measures have shortened lines and increased supplies.

With a Nor'easter heading toward New Jersey Wednesday, however, any additional problems or delays in the recovery efforts could slow down the restoration of normal service at gas stations in the region.