Photo: John Davenport /San Antonio Express-News
Last week’s run on gas in Texas was rooted in an old fashioned disruption in supply, exacerbated by modern technology as news of a #gasshortage spread like wildfire across Twitter and Facebook.
What began as a relatively minor supply issue as the last remnants of Hurricane Harvey hung over Houston on Aug. 30, exploded into full-blown panic buying that helped propel national prices up by an average of 27 cents a gallon and left more than 91 percent of all gas stations in San Antonio empty within three days.
At its peak on Sept. 2, at least 575 of San Antonio’s 630 area gas stations were reportedly without fuel, according to data submitted by drivers on price tracker GasBuddy, which isn’t verified. San Antonians who sat in lines 20 cars deep were buying at 2½ times their normal pace, according to Mayor Ron Nirenberg. Shortages were documented on social media and in newspapers from the Rio Grande Valley to Dallas-Fort Worth. The same thing appears to be happening in Florida now as residents flee Hurricane Irma.
The Great Gas Panic of 2017, in hindsight, had a lot more bark than bite. It showed how some vulnerabilities in Texas’ oil and gas infrastructures, coupled with fear, the ubiquoty of cellphones and the over sharing economy can cause real damage — or at least real annoyance — to real lives.
The trouble all started when refineries preemptively shut down along the Texas Gulf Coast before Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm August 25. More in Houston, Beaumont and at nearby ports followed suit as record amounts of rain flooded facilities. At one point more than 20 percent of total U.S. refining capacity was taken offline. Texas pipelines bringing fuel inland from the coast also were shut down, further cutting supply.
“As the different nodes of the supply chain begin to be disrupted, supply of gasoline, diesel fuels, jet fuels begins to be compromised,” said Susan Grissom, chief industry analyst with trade association American Fuel and Petroleum Manufacturers.
With refineries still down after the storm, especially those supplying San Antonio, Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, gas stations began depleting distribution terminals. This caused some stations in South and West Texas to physically run out of gas.
“San Antonio is tight on infrastructure any way,” said Alan Cerwick, a former Valero Energy Corp. executive and owner of VP Racing Fuels, a local company that makes 80 specialty fuels. Most of San Antonio, Austin and Waco get their fuel from refineries in Corpus Christi, he said. As stations ran out of fuel in the real world, word of the gas shortage spread like wildfire online and sent people in droves to buy gas.
“A little bit of a supply shortage, with a lot of hoarding, makes for a big problem here in San Antonio. It will take a while to catch up,” Cerwick said.
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