‘A panic state’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

As traffic whipped past on Highland Avenue, 27 cars lined up around the Raceway parking lot, each jockeying for the chance to pull up to the pump and pay $2.59 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline. Raceway owner Gene Hisel, said those may be the lucky ones.

“We’ll be out of regular by 7 p.m.,” he said.

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Similar scenes played out across the city as residents rushed to the stations to fill up before Selma, like surrounding communities, ran out of gas.

According to the AP, key refineries and pipelines remain crippled by Hurricane Katrina, crimping supplies and leading to caps on the amount of fuel delivered to retailers.

Attorney General Troy King’s office issued a statement saying that the degree of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the petroleum infrastructure is unknown at this time, but supplies have been severely disrupted by the evacuation of personnel and halting of operations prior to the storm’s strike and in its aftermath. Two major fuel supply lines, Colonial Pipeline and Plantation Pipeline, which bring fuel from Gulf Coast refineries and run through Alabama and up toward the Eastern seaboard may be significantly compromised.

What does that means at the pump?

Hisel said that once his station is out of gas, it could be at least two days before he can get more.

“It could very possibly be more,” he said. “Customers have said Camden, Marion, Demopolis, Clanton and Pine Hill are out of gas already.”

King took action by temporarily lifting some restrictions on the delivery of fuel throughout the state.

“My goal is to keep the supply of fuel flowing to those who need it,” said King. “We are asking the petroleum suppliers to work with us to provide fuel to this state, and we do not want to tie their hands as we all work together to meet this crisis. By temporarily lifting enforcement of these two regulations, we will have the flexibility to safely get fuel where it is needed and prevent disastrous shortages.”

The first is a federal regulation involving diesel fuels, which ordinarily are separated into two categories-one of which is not taxed for certain government and other groups, and another which is generally available to the public and is taxed. To distinguish between the two fuels, one contains a harmless red dye that does not alter the chemical makeup but is simply a tool for identification for tax purposes. Attorney General King has acted to allow suppliers to mix and switch the taxed and untaxed diesel fuel as needed.

The second regulation involves seasonal summertime restrictions that are particular to Shelby and Jefferson counties, which must meet a tighter standard of evaporation rates and sulfur content, and thus ordinarily must be supplied separately from the rest of the state. During this temporary period of time, Shelby and Jefferson counties may use the same gasoline as the rest of the Alabama.

“I think that will ease up on the pinch,” Hisel said of the AG’s actions, “especially for truckers.”

Hisel said, however, the AG’s actions won’t mean much difference for everyday drivers in this area.

Wednesday afternoon, Selmians were not taking any chances.

Pumps were filled and lines were long for customers willing to pay as much as $2.79 a gallon for regular in some spots.

Speculation was rampant that the prices would soar another 20-cents today.

“I expect it,” Hisel said with a shake of his head. “It’s supply and demand.”

Hisel went on to say he never thought he’d see a day when gas prices would approach $3 per gallon.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” he said.

In response to the crisis, Governor Bob Riley has directed that non-essential travel by state employees be limited so that fuel can be conserved for emergency, public safety and military use in the state.

He is also urging citizens to conserve the gasoline they have in their tanks.

“I’ve talked with federal officials and they’ve assured me this disruption of the gasoline supply is one of their top priorities and they’re working to correct the problem. I’m hoping this will be a short-term disruption.

In the meantime, citizens can continue to do their part by purchasing and using fuel responsibly. I’m encouraging Alabamians to be patient and to conserve the gasoline they have,” said Governor Riley.

Hisel said he had seen some hoarding.

One customer put $20 in a truck tank, then put another $153 worth in gas cans.

“That’s very dangerous in the back of a pick-up truck,” Hisel said.

Hisel said he could understand the push to fuel up, “People are in a panic state,” he said. “They need fuel to get to work.

It’s very constricting.

I feel sorry for them.”