Gasoline pumps at scattered outlets around Greater Waco are sporting plastic bags that proclaim fuel is not available, all victims of Hurricane Harvey and its rampage across the Texas Gulf Coast.
Nearly a dozen refineries ceased or curtailed operations as the wind and drenching rain threatened the concentration of oil drilling and processing operations, sending shockwaves across the petroleum industry, according to analysts and sources involved in fuel distribution locally.
Shortly after noon on Monday, the parking lot of the Valero convenience store at New Road and Bosque Boulevard appeared deserted except for customers walking inside to buy snacks. Signs informed those who drove onto the premises that the pumps were out of service.
“We see people pulling in and then pulling out angrily,” said employee Peter Almanza, pointing to security cameras. “We’ve been out since Sunday, and I don’t have any straight answers for those wanting to know when we’ll be back in business. Maybe tomorrow.”
With regular unleaded priced at $1.96 a gallon, the fuel islands at the H-E-B at Wooded Acres Drive and Bosque Boulevard had customers lining up and jockeying for position shortly after noon on Monday. Several motorists said they drove to H-E-B after encountering fuel outages at nearby Alon and Valero convenience stores.
“Everybody I know told me to stock up, that we’re running out of gas here in Waco,” said Adrienne Bovee, 29, who was driving a “Helpful Hands Cleaning” business truck. “My husband’s best friend works for an air-conditioning company, and they were told to top off their fleet vehicles.”
Bovee said she also read several Facebook posts on Sunday from people who encountered problems finding a retailer with gasoline.
“I hate lines, and I wouldn’t be in this one if I could have found gasoline at the two places I visited before coming here, including the Valero over there,” said Richard Black, 71, pointing to the convenience store near Waco High School.
Black described himself as “cynical,” and said he wonders if reports of gas shortages represent an excuse to raise prices.
Prices for regular unleaded locally on Monday ranged from $1.96 at the Murphy USA station adjacent to the Walmart in Bellmead, as well as at the H-E-B on Wooded Acres Drive, to $2.35 at the Chevron station at China Spring and Steinbeck Bend roads, according to GasBuddy.com.
GasBuddy.com released a report late Sunday showing the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded had risen 2.1 cents in the past week, after sliding by 4.7 cents a gallon the previous week. The norm stood at $2.07 Sunday, but had risen to $2.09 by mid-afternoon Monday.
“Gas prices are up in many places, and motorists should be gearing up for more in the coming weeks, thanks to Hurricane Harvey inundating significant refineries along the Texas coastline, leading to closures and tilting the delicate balance of supply and demand,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, in a news release. “Prices will likely rise nearly countrywide heading into Labor Day, with nearly everyone feeling a bit of a pinch at the pump from Harvey.”
Reached by phone, DeHaan said, “Large refineries in Corpus Christi and Houston have been impacted, so I would expect gas prices all over the U.S. to increase. They could climb 10 to 20 cents there in Waco during the short term, even double that if conditions worsen.”
Leslie Sweet, spokeswoman for H-E-B, said in an email that “we are diligently monitoring and working to keep our fuel stations supplied during this time of spiking demand. We have a plan in place to continue to deliver fuel to all of our customers. If we do run out of unleaded temporarily, we will offer higher grades of gas at the lower unleaded price.”
The Mission Petroleum fueling terminal on South Loop Drive supplies fuel to such customers as H-E-B and Valero, said supervisor Steve Snow, who added deliveries are running behind due to Hurricane Harvey.
“We have fuel pumped directly to our facility underground from a pipeline in Houston, but we have reached our allocation for this area, so we’re having to send trucks out of town, to Dallas, Arlington and Caddo Mills,” said Snow. “Shortages are being created, in part, because people are panicking and knocking the stores down to get gasoline.”
Calls to more than half the Valero-branded convenience stores in Greater Waco revealed each had run out of gas entirely or were offering only premium or diesel grades on Monday or sometime during the weekend.
“We ran out Saturday, received a delivery Sunday morning, and we just ran out again,” said Mike Herring, who helps staff the Valero at Memorial Drive and Valley Mills Drive, reached late Monday afternoon.
“We have gas now, about 2,100 gallons, but we did run out two days ago,” said Christin Ash, speaking from the Valero at Memorial Drive and New Road, near the Doris Miller Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Calls to Valero seeking comment were not returned. An update Monday on the Valero website said the company’s Gulf Coast refineries in Corpus Christi and Three Rivers remain out of commission.
Alon USA spokesman Keith Johnson said he was not aware of gas shortages in Waco, but would check on the status of stores here.
“We will monitor the situation daily to meet the needs of our customers in reaction to market conditions,” he said. “We do know the hurricane has had significant impact on operations in Corpus Christi and Houston, but most of our refining is done inland and should not be affected.”
Texas is home to 5.6 million barrels per day of refining capacity, and Louisiana next door has a capacity of 3.3 million barrels per day. More than 2 million barrels of daily refining capacity was curtailed due to Hurricane Harvey, according to a report by Reuters on investing.com.