30 August 2019 | MARY ELLEN KLAS | Miami Herald
Florida does not have a gasoline shortage, petroleum suppliers say, but the surge of anxious drivers eager to top their tanks in the face of Hurricane Dorian has led to some long lines and provoked some government intervention.
“I think we’re going to be fine,’’ said Dave Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council., noting that the state’s gasoline supply comes primarily from the Gulf of Mexico which “is wide open for business.”
On an average day, Florida consumes 30 million gallons of gasoline, he said, but the demand soars as people brace for evacuation and power outages, leading to sporadic shortages and long lines.
“At this point, all our terminal operations in the state are fully functional, and deliveries are being made,’’ Mica said. “Obviously the demand increases as people ready for the storm — they want to make sure their tank is adequate.”
Instead, Mica urges people to “be good neighbors” and refrain from topping off frequently as they await the arrival of the storm.
At a press conference Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged that some gas stations have “run out of fuel” and said it’s not a shortage issue, but a timing problem.
“We have a lot of fuel in Florida — it’s just we have limited capacity to bring it from the port to the gas stations because you can only have so many trucks at one time doing that,” DeSantis said.
The state’s gasoline supply primarily arrives from refineries around the Gulf of Mexico and is delivered to the ports in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. Tanker trucks deliver the fuel to the more than 9,000 gas stations across the state, Mica said, most of them independently owned and operated businesses.
In the face of the increased demand, state and federal governments have taken action. The federal government has issued a multi-state waiver on truck weight and the hours truck drivers can work, allowing deliveries into Florida from across the Southeast.
DeSantis authorized the Florida Highway Patrol to escort delivery trucks to gas stations to help clear roads for tankers to resupply gas stations that have run out of fuel. He also has asked port terminals to remain open as long as possible, and the state is tracking delivery and consumption patterns to try to resupply regions with the greatest demand.
Florida has been through this before. In 2017, Hurricane Irma caused the largest evacuation in Florida history. Gas stations along evacuation routes faced constant shortages, forcing the state’s highway patrol to escort tanker trucks through the busy highways to help them resupply.
“The great news is even during the largest evacuation of people in history, during Irma, our industry was able to get through that without people running out of fuel,’’ Mica said. “We need to be good neighbors and have a fair-minded ethic about our resource when we get into these kinds of situations. If we take that approach, I think we’ll be fine.”
So why do some stations close up shop in the midst of a hurricane-fueled run on gasoline?
It’s because some stations purchase their fuel on a spot market and can’t get enough supply when demand is tight, Mica said. Others make the decision to close so that the owners of the business can prepare their homes and families for the hurricane and some stations were just scheduled to be closed.
“The public just sees the closed station and that can cause panic in consumers minds. That’s the last thing we want to have,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, drivers are protected from any gasoline price spikes under the state of emergency imposed by DeSantis.
During the emergency status, gas stations are not allowed to charge rates significantly higher than what they charged in the past month — unless they can prove they are paying more to obtain the fuel. The Florida Attorney General has also set up a hotline to report price gouging: 1-866-966-7226.
According to AAA — The Automobile Club Group, Florida gas prices have averaged $2.45 per gallon for regular unleaded in the past 30 days.
After the storm, Mica said efforts will be made to immediately resupply fuel stations. Also, during the storm, the multi-million gallon storage terminals will “keep some supply in their tanks to make sure they are weighted down in a storm surge so they don’t float away.”
That’s good news for the post-storm recovery, he said. “It means there’s a ready resource following the storm — when we can’t get ships into port.”
The petroleum industry has one word of caution for the public, however: be safe with your fuel.
If you are buying fuel to store, be sure it’s kept in a federally approved container, Mica said. “It is a dangerous liquid and every year we unfortunately see people not storing it in a proper container and there’s an explosion.”
He also reminds people that if they use gasoline to fuel their generators to be sure to keep both the fuel and the generator in a properly ventilated place.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas