Shutdown Oil Refineries Send Gas Prices Surging in North Texas

Filling fuel tanks is becoming increasingly difficult in parts of Texas where some stations were out of gas and pump costs have risen steeply, but don't worry -- the gas shortage is only temporary.

The head of the Texas agency that regulates the oil and gas industry is urging people to wait three or four days to fill their cars and trucks with gasoline if they can.

Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said Thursday that people are panicking and that's causing a run on gas and empty fuel pumps. He says there is plenty of gas in Houston and elsewhere, but there are logistical problems of making sure all of the stations are getting it. Sitton says he doesn't think it will be an issue a week from now as long as people stay calm and fill up their tanks as they normally would.

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Hurricane Harvey knocked two of the country's largest oil refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast offline, leading to a drop in production at area refineries by about 30 percent and sparking concern about the fuel supply.

Experts said the key is not to panic. Just do what you can to conserve gas for now, especially as we head into the Labor Day weekend. Adjust driving plans to stay closer to home and if you have three-quarters of a tank left, be courteous and let others near empty fill up. All indications are that this shortage will only be temporary and that gas stations will have new shipments of gasoline soon.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that he issued a temporary waiver allows trucking firms to bring additional fuel into the state.

"As Texas begins the recovery process in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, it is important that Texans have access to much needed resources, including gasoline and fuel," Abbott said in a statement. "Texans should rest assured that their state government is doing every possible to ensure the accessibility and affordability of the necessities allowing us to focus on the process of rebuilding together after this storm."

A time-lapsed sky cam shot shows cars lining up at a North Texas gas station. The sped up video shows the activity within a 2 hour time period.

AAA said Thursday afternoon the statewide average for regular gas is $2.26 per gallon, a $.04 jump from Wednesday and a $.12 jump from last week. Dallas drivers are paying the most in the state at $2.37 per gallon; the national average is $2.45.

AAA said drivers should expect a short-term spike this week of about $.15 and that prices should drop again by mid- to late-September.

The Texas Attorney General's Office said Thursday if you see gas prices at $4 or more, that could be gouging and it should be reported. Take pictures, note the gas station's address and file your complaint online here with the AG's office.

North Texas Drivers Find Long Lines, Higher Prices at Area Pumps

There were long lines and sometimes short tempers at many North Texas gas stations Thursday as drivers rushed to fill up for fear of gas running out.

Cab driver Mohamad Hassan said he had been looking for gas across the region.

"I drove from here to Cedar Hill. I went to Irving, and it is the same. All the gas stations have a little sign on it [saying] 'We are out of gas,' or something like that. It's horrible," Hassan said.

Michael Ruiz sat in a line for gas with his window down and engine in neutral, coasting to the next spot as the line slowly moved.

The head of the Texas agency that regulates the oil and gas industry is urging people to wait three or four days to fill their cars and trucks with gasoline if they can.

"Hopefully I'll get some gas pretty soon. It's getting pretty hot out here, and I don't have AC," he said from his car.

Some drivers waited for hours. Carrie Kidd wound her way to front of the line and was next when the station ran out of gas.

"Now that I got to the pumps they are saying they are out of gas, and I went to six other spots before here, and they were all out," Kidd said. "How do I make it to work? [I'm] trying not to be upset."

The supply crunch prompted QuikTrip, one of the nation's largest convenience store chains, to temporarily halt gasoline sales at about half its 135 stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Instead, gasoline deliveries are going to designated stores across all parts of the metro area, QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said.

LINK: QuikTrip has an online tool that lists North Texas stations with fuel

Texas Sky Ranger flew over a number of gas stations Thursday morning, most of which showed modest increases in price ranging from $1.90 to some over $3 per gallon.

Some stations, though, were much higher.

Texas Sky Ranger
A 76 gas station at the corner of Castle Drive and Lavon Drive in Garland mistakenly listed a price of .02 per gallon for a short time Thursday.

The highest price seen was $8.02 for a single gallon of regular gas at the Phillips 76 in Garland at the intersection of Castle Drive and Lavon Drive. When asked about the price, the store owner told The Dallas Morning News the price was the result of a brief computer error and the price should have been $3.09. An employee at the store told NBC 5 that two people bought gas at that price and that they were refunded money. The station is now out of gas and doesn't expect to have any more until Sunday.

In Arlington, Jenni Shelby posted on Facebook that she stopped at a Mobil station on NW Green Oaks where the price for regular gas was $6.99 per gallon. Shelby said in her post that even though she is nearly 9 months pregnant she walked into the store and warned the employee she was filing a complaint with the Texas Attorney General. She later posted a copy of the AG's response online.

Shortage is Only Temporary

Erik Kotanchik, vice president of Fuel City in Dallas was adamant that this is not a crisis, but said things are going to get worse before they get better.

"We're OK, but it's not good. This is the worst it's been in 30 years," Kotanchik said.

"Crude oil is just sitting there right now, and there's no plans to actually turn it into refined fuels," Kotanchik said. "Prices are going up, because there's just so little supply that just to get it, you have to pay a lot of money for it. It's trickling all the way up to us and eventually the entire United States."

Exxon Mobil has shut down operations at its Baytown complex. A majority of the company's Beaumont refinery is being shutdown in the wake of flooding Thursday. A chemical plant in the area is also being taken offline.

The Texas Sky Ranger captures growing lines at North Texas gas pumps as concern about a fuel shortage grows due to Harvey knocking out multiple oil refineries.

A statement Wednesday from an ExxonMobil spokesperson said in part:

"Extreme weather and flooding caused by Tropical Storm Harvey have led to operational issues at our Texas facilities. ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge facilities are operating as normal."

With floodwater still rising in some areas along the coast, Kotanchik does not see an end to the current trend coming any time soon.

"To get the refinery back up takes two to three days, at least. Once they make the product, it has to go through the pipeline all the way from Houston up to here," he said.

QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh joins NBC via phone to reassure North Texans that there is no reason to panic about a gas shortage.

Dallas driver Dwight Blocker grew up in the 1970s and 80s when a fuel shortage led to long lines at gas stations.

"I remember back in the day when only the odd numbers could get gas one day and the even numbers could get gas on another day," he said.

Some customers who use their smartphones to find cheap gas said their apps were having a hard time keeping up. Ashley Rowlett used GasBuddy and found gasoline for $2.17 a gallon at a station in Irving, or so she thought.

"When I got there, it was $2.52. It was only an hour after I had checked my phone," she said.

Gas prices rise and lines at pumps grow in North Texas Thursday after Harvey knocked the country's two largest oil refineries offline.

Knowing what people in Houston are going through, Rowlett is taking it all in stride.

"We may just have to start walking to school, maybe use DART," she said.

Kotanchik said a silver lining in what's been a dark few days is that two refineries in Corpus Christi were spared major damage. If those refineries can get back online soon, he said drivers could see some relief.

He's doing what he can to weather the storm caused by Harvey, for his customers and his business.

"You're just calling around, trying to see who has fuel, and then getting the trucks over there while they still have it," he said.

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