Gas stations, drivers now in waiting game

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2008

While gasoline is in short supply, it is nevertheless availableat a number of stations in the Brookhaven area, according to aninformal poll of convenience store operators.

On Brookway Boulevard, Blue Sky manager Vicky Roberts said herstation has been out of regular unleader gas for five days as ofMonday, and so far her superiors haven’t been able to tell her whenthere might be help in sight.

“He said we’re out (of regular) until further notice,” she said.”We’ve got supreme, but we’re flat out of plus and unleaded.”

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In the wake of Hurricane Ike, some gas stations around town arebeing forced to hang bags on their pumps with the dishearteningmessage, “Sorry, we’re out.” Several stations, though, reportedhaving at least one grade available.

Gas station owners and managers agree that with oil refineriesand gasoline suppliers all over Texas shut down in the wake ofHurricane Ike, local stations could be in a bind.

“They had us on 95 percent allocation, then it dropped down to85 percent,” said 84 Chevron owner Neil Bozeman. “From what Iunderstand we may not get another shipment until Wednesday. If wedon’t get anymore between now and Wednesday, I will run out.”

Cracker Barrel owner Mike Becker said both of his stores onHighway 51 are also out of regular and plus gasoline. While they dohave premium and diesel, that could soon become an issue also, hesaid.

“Diesel has gotten to where it’s hard to find too, and that maybe a problem,” he said.

Becker added that he had seen the CEO of Exxon on televisionalso unable to answer questions about when things might return tonormal as 90 percent of Houston is currently in the dark.

“He doesn’t know what to tell people either,” Becker said.

Every pump handle at the Brookhaven BP on Brookway Boulevard hasa bag on the handle. Store employees said they have not been toldwhen they will get another shipment either.

The Shell B-Kwik on Brookway, however, has everything but plusgasoline. And officials there said so far the information they haveshows no reason to worry that they would run out.

Meanwhile, Tillotson’s owner Ted Evans said he’s circumventedsome of the gas crunch by getting his supply from Kenner, La. Butin times like these, there’s no sure thing.

“It’s so limited as to what we can get,” he said. “We’ve gotregular, but not plus or premium.”

Gas station officials say it could be a bumpy ride for everyoneuntil things are restored to working order. They said it affectsnot only their gas sales, but also in-store sales as well, aspeople tend to buy snacks and other grocery items when they stop tobuy gas.

“This makes us make a lot less money, for sure,” Roberts said.”And the worst part is there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Bozeman said while there is an end in sight, unfortunatelyRoberts is right. There’s nothing local people can do but wait.

“I would think it would come back to some normalcy after therefineries in Galveston come back online,” he said. “They have toget their personnel back home to start with, and most of them areevacuated. Once you shut one of those refineries down it takes twodays to get back up.”

Becker agreed that at this point, gas could be a waiting game.And the nation is at a stage where there’s just no way to telluntil Texas itself is back up and running.

“I think they’re going to have to wait til the dust settles outthere in Houston and go from there,” he said.

Meanwhile after more than six months above $100 a barrel, oilprices dropped Monday morning, falling under the triple-digitthreshold, which would seem to bode well for consumers. Becker saidit could still be a little while before that relief is in sight,however.

“You would expect (prices) to fall, but all the oil that hasbeen bought at the higher prices has not been refined yet,” hesaid. “With the demand, which is up because we don’t have any, Idon’t think that’s going to affect the price for a while.”