Gasoline shortages expected to ease over several days as Texas thaw takes hold

The gasoline retail industry expects supply and demand to come into balance in about five days.

AUSTIN — The Texas electric power grid was running at capacity Friday after days of extended outages, but in its place comes a gasoline shortage at the pump as refineries seek to recover after nearly a week of freezing temperatures complicated by snow and ice.

"Frozen temperatures have significantly impacted our refineries, but we're working to help them get back online to provide the fuel that Texans depend upon," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news briefing.

Paul Hardin, president of the Texas Food and Fuel Association, said gasoline trucks were again running to retail outlets across the state Friday. But it could be a few days before all stores are reopened and fully staffed.

The Texas gasoline supply chain will take about five days to rebuild, the industry says.

"Obviously, weather has been the restricting factor over the last several days," Hardin said, referring to the distribution companies that run the trucks and hire the drivers. "They're playing a little catch-up."

Several refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast were forced to shut down as temperatures plunged to single digits early in the week,

ExxonMobil shuttered all of its refining and chemical operations at its plants in Baytown and Beaumont, according to S&P Global Platts, which provides extensive reporting and analysis for the energy industry.

Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, said the arctic blast that touched all corners of the state hobbled the industry at nearly every level. 

“Due to extreme weather conditions, some roadways have been impassable and trucks in certain areas have not been able to deliver transportation fuel to some communities," Staples said.

More:ERCOT: Texas was 'minutes away' from catastrophic collapse of electric grid as storm hit

Once electric power is fully restored and the industry is confident safety and environmental standards are met, "refineries will begin resuming production to supply necessary fuels to Texas families and businesses."

Marc Williams, deputy director of the Texas Department of Transportation, said the vast majority of the state's highway system is back up and running. That means fuel trucks and other commercial vehicles can begin restoring interrupted supply chains as soon as industries are ready to come back on line, he said.

Only 13 stretches of highways remained closed because of the ice as of Friday morning, and most were on rural stretches, Williams said.

"All of our interstates are up and running." he said.

Moving commodities in heavy trucks is complicating during winter storms even if supplies of goods are available, which can exacerbate shortages, Williams said. 

More:Here's how the cold affects your wallet. Spoiler alert: It won't be pretty, Corpus Christi

"If one or two trucks get stalled, sometimes that just has a domino effect where multiple trucks begin to stack up behind them," he said.

Hardin likened the present reboot of the motor fuel supply to the comeback after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when gasoline-starved motorists all sought to fill up nearly at the same time.

"This system isn't designed for either everyone to fill up on one day or everyone delivering gas on the same day," he said. "So it's a five-day catch. It's going to take several days to get everybody filled back up. 

Meanwhile, after five days power outages affecting millions of Texans statewide, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Friday the state's grid was finally operating at capacity.

“There is enough generation on the electric system to allow us to begin to return to more normal operating conditions,” said Dan Woodfin, ERCTO's senior director of system Operations.

Customers that are without power likely fall into one of these three categories, ERCOT said:

  • Areas out due to ice storm damage on the distribution system
  • Areas that were taken out of service due to the energy emergency load shed that need to be restored manually (i.e., sending a crew to the location to reenergize the line)
  • Large industrial facilities that voluntarily went offline to help during this energy emergency.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.