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Gas shortages make restoring power to refineries in NJ a priority

As drivers desperate for gasoline in the wake of superstorm Sandy continue to find oversized lines at the pump, authorities in New York and New Jersey are working to restore juice to gas stations with product and no power — but relief may be days away.

Restoring power to refineries in the northern part of New Jersey is a top priority, and more than 2,000 outside workers had been brought in to help with that process, according to PSE&G, the state's largest power provider. PSE&G CEO Ralph Izzo said the company is working with the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience and Automotive Association (NJGCA) to target locations that have gas but don’t have power to dispense it.

“We have a process in place to start moving in that direction,” said Izzo. “Hopefully we’ll be able to work with those stations and get them up and running.”

“We’re making steady progress."

- PSE&G President Ralph LaRossa

Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store and Automotive Association, told FoxNews.com that virtually “nothing [has] been restored,” adding that up to 80 percent of gas stations in the northern part of the state either don’t have gas to sell or the power to dispense it.

Damage from the storm that killed at least 90 people has forced many gas stations to close and disrupted fuel deliveries to those that remained open. The American Automobile Association estimates that 60 percent of gas stations in New Jersey are shuttered, compared to 70 percent with those on New York's Long Island.

Without power, fuel terminals cannot pump gas onto tankers and gas stations, in turn, cannot pump petroleum into cars. The Port of New York and New Jersey has slowly started to accept tankers, but some cargo early Friday was being diverted to the Port of Virginia.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the lack of supply was initially addressed Thursday when the Port of New York and New Jersey was reopened for fuel shipments. Schumer also asked the United States Coast Guard to expedite its review of the port’s infrastructure while shortages across New York City, Westchester County and Long Island continued.

“With mass transit still hobbled and power still out in many parts of the New York City, Westchester and Long Island, gasoline is critical to the health and well-being of those impacted by the storm, so many of whom are now dependent on generators” Schumer said in a statement.  “There are a number of factors that are causing gas shortages and massive lines at the pump, but one of the critical ones was simply a lack of supply, and today we’re announcing that has been addressed. The port is open, the backlogged barges can begin to dock and gas and will begin to flow into New York again.” 

With an average of 900,000 barrels of petroleum products coming in per day, New York Harbor is the busiest oil port in the world, according to the Department of Energy. The harbor has some 75 million barrels of storage capacity, according to Reuters, allowing firms to import and trade everything from gasoline to jet fuel before shipping it to airports or gas stations.

Some Clean Air Act requirements in 16 states and the District of Columbia has been temporarily waived through Nov. 20 to reduce fuel disruptions from Sandy, allowing conventional gasoline to be sold instead of cleaner reformulated gas in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and the District of Columbia. A blend of reformulated and regular gasoline will be allowed in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Environmental Protection Agency officials have also said New Jersey residents can use heating oil in emergency generators and pumps if cleaner diesel is unavailable.

In suburban New York’s Westchester County, long lines began forming at the pump as early as 6 a.m., when dozens of cars snaked along the breakdown lane of an expressway waiting for gas at a rest stop in Yonkers. Meanwhile, on the other side of the highway, about 30 cars deluged an exit lane while trying to reach a gas station, snarling the flow of traffic.

Elsewhere, in Manhattan, cab driver Harum Prince joined a nearly mile-long queue for gas early Friday after spending three hours in another line in the Bronx, where a station’s supply dried up before Prince could refuel.

"I don't blame anybody," he said. "God, he knows why he brought this storm."

Prince said he leases his cab for $130 a day and needs to match that in fares in addition to the cost of gas to make a profit. Despite those crippling lines, Prince had hoped to somehow reach that figure Friday prior to 5 p.m., when he has to return the vehicle.

Sano Saher, an assistant manager at a BP station in Queens, told the New York Post he had “no idea” when the station would have gas.

“The distributor is saying hopefully next week, Monday or Tuesday,” Saher said.

In Elmsford, N.Y., lines also formed at the few gas stations that remain open. Yellow tape is pulled across driveways of stations that are closed. In Farmingdale, east of New York City on Long Island, at least four gas stations were closed or had yellow tape around the pumps because they were out of gas. In Hempstead, where some drivers were waiting up to two hours to refuel, a gallon of gas was being sold for $5.99 early Friday, MyFoxNY.com reports.

The desperate search for fuel sent some New York area motorists into Connecticut, where gas stations in Fairfield County were overwhelmed. Greenwich Police Lt. Kraig Gray urged out-of-town drivers to continue a few miles up the shoreline where gasoline is also widely available and there are no lines. New Yorkers stopping at the first Connecticut exits off Interstate 95 are creating traffic jam and "making it difficult for everybody,” he said.

The fight for fuel has already gone criminal with the arrest of a New York man who authorities say pulled a gun when another motorist complained that he cut a line at a gas station early Thursday. Sean Bailey, 35, of Queens, was charged with menacing and criminal possession of a weapon. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

“I’m not sure who to blame,” motorist Tony Ayala, of Queens, N.Y., told the New York Post regarding the widespread gas shortage. “Do you blame the oil plants, the government?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click for more from MyFoxNY.com.

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