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Gasoline shortages in Houston and beyond are widespread as prices spike

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 8/31/2017 Jordan Blum, Houston Chronicle

As floodwaters recede, Houston motorists are returning to streets to realize there are potentially widespread gasoline shortages throughout the region, and even hours away in Dallas and San Antonio.

Regional fuel prices could spike by 50 cents a gallon in the coming days - and maybe even as much as 40 cents nationally - after Hurricane Harvey forced more than 20 percent of the nation's oil refining capacity to come offline along the Texas Gulf Coast, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

The massive Colonial Pipeline that carries fuel from Houston to much of the Southeast and East Coast shut down early Thursday as well.

Fuel shortages and price spikes may mean long lines at pump and likely searching for stations that still have fuel, DeHaan said. These problems may last for a month, and possibly longer, as it takes weeks for the region's major refineries to return to full capacity. Some Louisiana refineries still operating already are tapping into the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve for oil supplies.

"It's the worst-possible scenario," he said. "It's beyond even my worst-case concerns."

However, everyone panicking and rushing to fill their tanks will only exacerbate the problems, he said. The problems are still only temporary.

"I don't think motorists realize the power is in their hands. Patience is a virtue. Motorists are going to have to wait for supplies and prices to return to normal. Try to buy only what you need," DeHaan said.

The shortages are real in Houston because so many stations and refineries are offline, but the panic is creating much bigger problems than necessary, he said.

For instance, the League City Police Department put out a statement Thursday warning that citizens in the heavily flooded city should stay home.

A Shell gas station at Weslayan and Westpark in Houston was out of gasoline Friday afternoon. © Brian Rausch/Houston Chronicle A Shell gas station at Weslayan and Westpark in Houston was out of gasoline Friday afternoon.

"Officers are advising there is no gas available and recommending that citizens stay home and do not waste gas. Stations are unsure when supplies will be available," the department said.

Outside of the Houston area, and in Dallas especially, gas stations are running out of fuel as motorists scramble to fill their tanks ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

Haley Gonzalez, who lives north of Dallas in The Colony, said she search for fuel before finally finding it in Plano. Even then, she could only fill about half of her tank before it ran out.

"It's insane," said Gonzalez, 23. "It's wild that we're directly affected by something like this so soon."

People were waiting at least 30 minutes to pump, only to end up buying premium-priced fuel after the regular ran out. Dallas fuel prices already have surged almost 30 cents a gallon since before Harvey made landfall.

Gonzalez and her friends were planning a short Labor Day weekend vacation to Lake Texoma about 75 miles away. That's now changed.

"We're having to think way more local," she said.

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