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BEAUMONT, Texas -- Closed gas stations and empty fueling tanks along evacuation routes should not happen again, petroleum industry leaders said last week as the Texas Hurricane Conference at Ford Park ended.
Wade Upton, a Valero senior vice president and coordinator for the state's fuel emergency operations center, said in a report in the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise that the petroleum industry plans to pump as much fuel as possible into coastal areas if storms threaten the Texas Gulf Coast this hurricane season.
Once massive numbers of cars start heading north, "We're going to start shifting supply up the evacuation routes," Upton said in the report.
Coastal residents need to help, Upton said, by keeping their vehicle fuel tanks topped off throughout hurricane season. By creating demand, consumers will encourage retailers to keep supply available.
Evacuees leaving without full tanks last year, and those whose full tanks sputtered to empty as they idled for hours, sometimes encountered closed or empty gas stations or incredibly long lines when they tried to refuel farther north.
"There's going to be lines. We just want to make sure at the front end of those lines people are pumping gas," Upton said.
Scott Fisher of the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association said he does not expect the same degree of problems with retailers closing up shop and evacuating.
Larger gasoline retailers already have started asking employees at outlets on evacuation routes to volunteer to stay and work up to 24 hours before a storm's projected landfall, Fisher said. Some are offering to feed and house employees and provide incentive pay, he said.
Independently owned stores might do the same, but they do not factor as strongly into the state's fuel plan, Fisher said.
No one can force retailers to remain open, Fisher said, though some tried last year.
"We had one guy that someone pulled a gun on, accusing him of shutting down tanks when he had fuel available," Fisher said. "He didn't have fuel, or he would have been selling it."
Upton said retailers cannot afford to drain their tanks entirely. If tanks are empty and the ground gets wet, tanks can float up through the ground, damaging the equipment, Upton said.
With assurances from the state fuel emergency operations center that tankers will be there to refill tanks, retailers will have an incentive to stay in business as long as they can and keep making money, Upton said.
During an evacuation, the state will provide tanker trucks with police escorts and global positioning system units as they make trips to resupply retail outlets, Upton said. The GPS units will help the emergency operations center direct the trucks around traffic.
Upton said the state team also has commitments from the five "big guys" in the petroleum business to reopen retail outlets in affected areas using generators within 24 to 36 hours after a storm hits.
"We need to get fuel back in the area fast," he said.
If there are breakdowns or people that run out of fuel on the road, the Texas Department of Transportation will have more courtesy patrols available to help them, John Barton, district engineer for the Beaumont area, told the Enterprise.
During Hurricane Rita, the Beaumont area had two or three teams on the road to help motorists with vehicles that overheated, got flat tires or needed enough fuel to get to the next gas station. Next time, 10 or more teams will be on the road all the time, Barton said.
"I think the majority of problems came because people weren't prepared, didn't have a full tank when they left," Barton said.