May 26, 2024

Military to Deliver Fuel to Storm-Ravaged Region

With the reopening of the Port of New York to tankers on Thursday, and the return of a critical Northeast fuel pipeline to full capacity on Friday, the biggest outstanding problems are the lack of power at hundreds of gas stations and continued panic buying by the public, industry officials said.

Because electricity will not be restored in parts of central New Jersey for seven to 10 days, gasoline shortages may remain severe in some areas. As of Friday, according to AAA, only 40 to 50 percent of the gas stations in New York City and New Jersey were operating, and even fewer were operating on Long Island. Most of the stations were out of service because of power failures.

“We have seen some stations open as power is restored, but other stations have closed while running out of gas,” said Michael Green, an AAA spokesman. “The long lines and supply problems will go away once power is restored.”

The Obama administration, realizing the political peril if it were to be blamed for fuel shortages in the days before the election, significantly accelerated its response on Friday.

It authorized the Defense Department to hire hundreds of trucks that will be used to deliver 12 million gallons each of gasoline and diesel fuel, mostly from commercial suppliers, to staging areas in New Jersey. The department is handling the task because its Defense Logistics Agency has contracting powers that enable it to move quickly.

From the staging areas, the fuel will be distributed throughout the region in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help resupply stations. Together, the gasoline and diesel are enough for 1.6 million vehicles with 15-gallon tanks.

The Pentagon has also been authorized by the Energy Department and the White House to tap the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve. It will draw as much as two million gallons of diesel fuel — part of the 12 million total — for government emergency responders, helping them to keep electricity generators, water pumps, federal buildings, trucks and other vehicles running. The oil reserve, created by the federal government in 2000, holds 42 million gallons of ultralow-sulfur diesel at terminals in Groton, Conn., and Revere, Mass. It is the first time fuel has been released from the reserve.

Earlier Friday, the Homeland Security Department temporarily lifted a rule prohibiting foreign-flagged ships from delivering fuel between United States ports, a move that should soon bring additional tankers to the New York area with refined gasoline and diesel.

And on Thursday, the Defense Department used 17 of its aircraft to move 630 tons of equipment, including 10 bucket trucks and 20 pickup trucks, from West Coast utility companies to an Air National Guard base 60 miles north of New York City.

“We are working this as a team,” W. Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator, said at a news conference Friday morning.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, said the federal government may end up sending more fuel than is needed. “Anyone running for office would rather err on the side of excess,” he said. “It’s a confidence builder. It will help placate people who think we are on the threshold of crisis.”

Government officials said they were confident that the shortages would ease in the coming week, as power was restored and the fuel now being delivered to the region arrived.

“There is no reason to panic; there is no reason for anxiety,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said at a news conference Friday. “We understand why there was a shortage, for very definable reasons. We also understand why it’s going to be better, and it’s going to be better in the near future.”

The fuel shortage has emerged as one of the most widespread problems after the storm, worsening the suffering in the region. Large parts of the public transit system remained out of service, and 3.5 million customers had no power Friday afternoon, down from eight million earlier in the week, according to Energy Department figures.

Eric Lipton reported from Washington and Clifford Krauss from Houston.

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