JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy's devastation, drivers eager to get back on the road are waiting on long lines for hours thanks to fuel shortages at many gas stations and the lack of power to operate pumps at others. Additional demand is driven by the use of generators to power houses and businesses without electricity.
Officials say up to 80 percent of New Jersey stations are currently unable to sell gas, according to a WNCT.com report.
Although multiple refineries in the Northeast closed down or cut production due to the storm, they were largely undamaged, meaning they could be back in production within days, said Summit Energy Services analyst Matt Smith. However, getting the gasoline where it is needed could take longer.
"We could very well see shortages through the weekend and into the next," Smith stated.
Additionally, ports in New York and New Jersey were closed until the U.S. Coast Guard opened them on a restricted basis today, making it difficult to get new fuel to gas stations. Traffic jams caused by lack of functioning mass transit have also impeded fuel deliveries, according to CNNMoney.
Despite the shortage, gas prices have generally declined due to lower demand. Even without the storm, demand typically drops nationwide following the summer driving season. However, approximately 100 consumers have called the N.J. Attorney general's office to complain about price gouging by gas stations and other retailers in the storm's aftermath, NBC News reported.
New Jersey's anti-gouging law prohibits prices increases of more than 10 percent during an emergency, with exceptions for merchants making up for rising costs. Violations may incur $10,000 fines.
"We will not hesitate to impose the strictest penalties on profiteers who, in direct violation of our consumer protection laws, seek to capitalize on the misfortune of others in the midst of a crisis and recovery period," Gov. Chris Christie warned retailers.
To help resupply East Coast gas stations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is temporarily waiving some Clean Air Act requirements in 16 states and Washington, D.C.
"I have determined that an 'extreme and unusual fuel supply circumstance' exists that will prevent the distribution of an adequate supply of gasoline to consumers," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a letter on Wednesday to governors of the affected states.
Conventional gasoline may be sold in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and the District of Columbia, reported the Associated Press. A blend of reformulated gasoline (RFG) and regular gasoline will be allowed in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Gov. Christie issued an additional waiver allowing New Jersey gas station operators and other fuel merchants to purchase out-of-state gasoline and diesel. Under normal circumstances, merchants cannot legally buy out-of-state fuel without a license to import.