National gas prices have peaked since Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida, but the severe flooding and high winds have knocked out power for 3 million people, hampering recovery efforts.
National gas prices have peaked and are "on their way down," said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, a Boston-based provider of retail fuel pricing information and data. The national price for gasoline on Sunday evening was $2.66 a gallon. On Thursday, prices peaked at $2.67 and started dipping on Friday. By Saturday, the decline continued to $2.666 and fell to $2.659 on Sunday.
Irma's wrath has eviscerated the Caribbean islands of the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Barts and St. Martin, killing at least 27 people and causing extensive damage to Cuba. In Florida, at least three deaths have been reported and 3.3 million homes and businesses are facing weeks without power ranging from the Keys to the central regions of the state.
A number of gas stations in southeast Florida, including the Miami and the Ft. Lauderdale area will not have power on Monday, impeding recovery efforts, said DeHaan.
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DeHaan's team arrived in Tallahassee on Friday to work with the division of emergency management, giving officials multiple angles and sources of data from their Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to help route fuel delivery, so that "every truck and first responder doesn't have to worry about getting fuel," he said. "They are using the information to set priorities and to know where their challenges are. It's incredible to see the Herculean effort by the government to make decisions based on this data, knowing it will help drive people to an area where there is gas and keep them out of harm's way."
Technological advances have aided not only motorists, but also rescue, government and military workers during Hurricane Harvey and Irma to quickly find gas stations which have fuel unlike Hurricane Andrew in 1992, a category 5 whose floodwaters resulted in catastrophic losses for the Bahamas and Florida.
"People wasted so much gas in order to find it and evacuate," DeHaan said. "You can't outrun Mother Nature, but you may be able to outsmart her."
Florida's major airports remain closed, including Miami International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Tampa International Airport.
The number of gas stations in Florida without fuel dipped slightly on Sunday as Hurricane Irma was downgraded to category two. The percent of gas stations without fuel moved to 42% in Florida, 14% in Georgia, 8% in South Carolina and 4.5% in North Carolina.
At gas stations that still have fuel, the wait times are 30 minutes to an hour in major cities, said GasBuddy, and the spread or the difference between the lowest price and the highest price has caused " atypically large" ones in "a given city" compared to normal spreads of $0.60 to $1.00.
In major cities, there are still 25% to 50% of stations which lack fuel despite a number of refineries going back online or at 100% capacity in Texas.
"Since the storm has moved westerly, people are calming down," DeHaan said.
Additional fuel has been sent ahead of the hurricane on Thursday on Friday as Florida Governor Rick Scott said 8.4 million gallons was shipped into Port Everglades and over 5 million gallons into the Port of Tampa as law enforcement escorted the fuel trucks.
The port closures in Florida and neighboring states will impact deliveries since the state relies on barge shipments instead of pipelines for 97% of its refined products, according to S&P Global Platts, a New York-based provider of information and benchmark prices for the commodities and energy markets.
The gasoline supply was impacted drastically in the aftermath of Harvey, which was downgraded to a tropical storm and shut down refineries in Texas for two weeks. There are ten petroleum terminals in the Fort Lauderdale area which are owned by refiners like Chevron (CVX) and ExxonMobil (OXM) , midstream companies like Kinder Morgan (KMI) and TransMontaigne (TLP) , plus privately held companies like George E. Warren.
In the U.S., there is an estimated 1.03 million barrels of oil per day of refining capacity that is down while an additional 2.7 million barrels of oil per day of capacity is expected to return, said S&P Global Platts. With some refineries operating at only 50% of capacity, the total amount of downed capacity is 2.38 million barrels of oil per day or 12.8% of U.S. capacity.
The extremely high winds and storm surge will impact efforts for repairs even as 350,000 outages were restored by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), said CEO Eric Silagy.
The Miami-Dade and Broward counties are facing severe flooding along with Palm Beach County and residents will "likely experience more than one outage throughout the duration of the storm, particularly as Irma's speed has slowed," he said in a statement.
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