New York hit by panic fuel buying

People are reflected on the side of a car as they wait in line for petrol at a station at Union City in New Jersey. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
People are reflected on the side of a car as they wait in line for petrol at a station at Union City in New Jersey. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
A third day of "panic buying" of gasoline among Sandy-struck New York area motorists prompted action from authorities, who waived shipping regulations even as pipelines and oil tankers resumed limited shipments.

The US government waived the Jones Act barring foreign-flagged vessels from carrying fuel between US ports in a bid to boost supplies from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would temporarily lift tax and registration requirements on tankers docking in the New York Harbour, which had just reopened to oil vessels.

While the waivers sent benchmark New York gasoline futures 2 percent lower, they will do little to address the biggest obstacle to getting fuel to consumers: the power outages that have shut nearly two-thirds of the service stations in the New Jersey and New York City area and are still hindering service at major oil terminals and refineries along the harbor.

Faced with the prospect of another day of hunting for fuel or losing out on business, New York City cab driver Mohammad Sultan parked his yellow taxi at a Hess station on Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn at midnight on Thu rsday so he could be first in line when a rumoured fuel shipment arrived at 6 a.m.

At 9am, with 180 vehicles behind him, the pumps were still empty. Officials said the number of cabs on the road was down 24 percent from last week.

"Because of the gas problem, there are thousands of yellow cabs sitting around wasting time and money," Sultan said.

There were some signs that the complex New York Harbor network of storage tanks and pipelines was finally returning to service after Sandy dealt it a direct hit, crippling the ability to fuel the nation's most dense consumer population.

The region's biggest pipeline, Colonial, restarted much of its northern line, and an oil tanker carrying 2 million gallons of gasoline docked overnight in Newburgh, New York, 100km north of New York city. Other ships were finally offloading cargoes in the harbor after being stuck at anchor for the past week.

But those measures were cold comfort for residents stuck in hours-long queues, often with no guarantee that supplies would be available when they got to the front of the line -- or that enough power would be restored to get more stations open.

The situation is wearing on New Yorkers. Juliana Smith, a full-time student, spent 2-1/2 hours in line to fill two five-gallon containers on Friday, an hour more than on Thursday.

"It's psychotic," she said. "People are angry. We have no power. No heat. We need gas for the generator and our Ford Explorer, which is a monster."

Prices at the pump have remained steady despite the shortages, motorist group AAA said, averaging just below $4 a gallon in New York City, 2 cents lower than last week. However, on Long Island, where only a third of all stations were working, average gasoline prices jumped 5 cents from a day earlier.

But online, Craigslist users started offering gasoline at as much as $15 a gallon to motorists and homeowners not wishing to brave the lines.

There were signs the situation could improve in the coming days as wholesale markets begin to work again.

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