By Rachel Madison
Motorists across Liberty Hill joined long lines at gas station pumps Thursday and Friday after rumors of a gas shortage hit Central Texas following Hurricane Harvey.
Although rumors swirled, Texas state officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, assured Texas residents that a gas shortage was not a concern.
“There’s plenty of gasoline in the United States of America and there’s plenty of gasoline in the state of Texas,” said Abbott during a news briefing at the State Operations Center Friday. “There is a perception of concern, but the reality is we’re going to have plenty of gasoline.”
Regardless, residents and out-of-towners alike lined up at gas station pumps across Liberty Hill to fill up whenever a station was reloaded with fuel. Cheri Mastrian, who is in the process of moving to Liberty Hill from Cedar Park, saw a tanker refueling at the Valero Corner Store on TX-29 and Stonewall Parkway and took the opportunity to fill up her tank.
“I’m not worried about a shortage,” she said. “I think any ‘shortage’ was created from the panic everyone is having right now at the thought of having a shortage. I saw the tanker [at the Corner Store] so I knew there was going to be gas and I took the opportunity.”
Mastrian had to wait about 30 minutes to fill up her tank, but the gas stations she had passed in Cedar Park were worse off than those in Liberty Hill, she said.
“I wouldn’t have stopped at any of the stations in Cedar Park,” she said. “They are all packed.”
Norma Batten and her daughter-in-law Shauna Batten, both Liberty Hill residents, waited together in Norma Batten’s vehicle Friday to get gas. “I usually go a week in between getting gas, and I have half a tank now, but you never know so here I am,” Norma Batten said. “People are really worried.”
Shauna Batten added that people from other cities were driving to Liberty Hill to get gas because other nearby cities, like Leander and Cedar Park, were running low on fuel too.
“My husband and I went to grab something to eat [Thursday] night and we saw car accidents and people shoving each other at gas stations in North Austin,” Shauna Batten said. “People are making it worse than it really is and now they’re flocking out here to get gas.”
Round Rock resident Victor Gallagher was heading out of town for the Labor Day weekend, but couldn’t find gas anywhere between Round Rock and Cedar Park until he spotted the same tanker refueling at the Valero Corner Store.
“The only reason I pulled in is because I saw the tanker filling it up. From I-35 all the way down to FM 1431 and over to 183-A there was nothing,” he said. “But all this is is panic. I work in the energy sector and I can tell you that we have about six weeks of inventory. Social media is 100 percent causing the panic.”
The major cause behind Liberty Hill’s gas stations running out of fuel is the widespread panic, said Sam Ali, manager at Boomers convenience store at 13801 TX-29.
“The [gas] delivery trucks are behind because of the hurricane. Now rumors have spread, and everybody is trying to fill up at the same time while deliveries are behind and it’s making it worse,” Ali said. “There’s no shortage of gas. It’s just taking it longer to get from point A to point B. What we’re doing is putting a $10 limit on gas so we can let the deliveries get caught up.”
As of Friday afternoon, Boomers had some diesel fuel left, but Ali didn’t know when another gas delivery would be made. Boomers typically sees around 200 gas-buying customers per day, but it increased to 400 Thursday.
“It could have been more, but we ran out of gas,” Ali said. “I have never seen anything like this before; it’s kind of surprising. I’ve had lots of people calling me and asking what’s going on because it’s never happened. Now with the long weekend and holiday, it adds to it and it’s kind of scary.”
Bud Karedia, who has managed the Jiffy Mart Valero at 13420 TX-29 for 17 years, echoed similar sentiments.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “This is worse than when Hurricane Katrina happened. People are panicking because on the news they’re saying all the refineries are out near Houston, and people are worried about being able to drive. They want to get as much gas as possible and get it as fast as possible.”
The Jiffy Mart Valero received 2,500 gallons Friday morning—a far cry from the typical 8,000 or 9,000 gallons the station typically receives. On top of that, Karedia said he’s had about 20 times more gas-buying customers than usual and people from other cities calling to find out if his station has fuel.
“The smaller stations like us don’t get all the gas,” Karedia said. “The corporate locations get all the gas. We ran out [Thursday] and got the 2,500 [Friday] morning, but I have no idea how long it will be before we get more gas.”
Travis Lam, cashier at the Cefco gas station at 717 US-183, agreed that the shortage locally is being caused by panicked drivers. He added that in his eight years of working for gas stations, he’d never seen anything like this before.
“People are afraid they’ll run out of fuel and if they don’t get theirs first then they won’t get any. They have that survival of the fittest mentality,” he said.
Lam’s station still had some diesel fuel available on Friday afternoon, but regular unleaded had been out most of the day.
“We honestly don’t know when we’ll get our next delivery,” Lam said. “We are completely in the dark about it. The last delivery was early Thursday morning, around 4 a.m., and we ran out within 24 hours. That’s not normal. People are panicking and are afraid that gas is going to become scarce. We’ve had people filling up cans upon can upon cans to store it away.”
Although there is not a gas shortage according to state officials, they admit that logistically getting gas to where it needs to go is taking longer than normal. That’s because Hurricane Harvey knocked out almost 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, the Colonial pipeline, a major pipeline supplying petroleum products from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast, is usually fully utilized but is now operating intermittently because of a lack of refinery and terminal product available, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Gas Buddy, a website that provides users with gas prices at stations in their area, has launched a gas tracker feature to help motorists locate which gas stations have fuel near them. Visit tracker.gasbuddy.com for more information and to locate nearby gas stations.