State’s gasoline market (and consumers) get some early good news

Though many Connecticut gasoline stations remain without electric power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the state’s fuel market already is better off than it was one year ago.

The state’s principal fuel importing terminal, located in New Haven Harbor, reported Tuesday morning that it expects limited truck loading operations to begin later in the day.


There were long lines Tuesday at many gas stations, including at the Citgo on Route 1 in Westbrook. (Jacki Rabe Thomas Photo)

Also Tuesday, the head of one of the state’s two largest gasoline retailers’ associations said that government waivers that allowed truckers to work longer hours and carry heavier loads also should help Connecticut’s fuel market bounce back more quickly than it did after last year’s storms.

The terminal run by Magellan Midstream Partners of Tulsa, Okla., was largely shut down for three days after the Oct. 29, 2011, nor’easter that brought near-hurricane force winds and dumped as much as 2 feet of snow on much of Connecticut, causing flooding and widespread outages.

Magellan, which operates three terminals on the East Coast, suspended all operations Monday at its facilities in New Haven and Wilington, Del., while its terminal in Richmond, Va., operated normally.

“As of this morning, all Magellan employees in the region are accounted for and safe,” company spokesman Bruce Heine wrote in a statement sent by email early Tuesday.

“We have completed a preliminary assessment of our New Haven and Wilmington facilities and we are in the process of implementing our reactivation plan,” Heine added. “We expect to resume truck loading operations at our Wilmington terminal later today. We also anticipate that we will begin limited truck loading operations at New Haven later today.”

Heine said Monday that Magellan had begun implementing its hurricane preparedness plan late last week at its New Haven terminal, which has a maximum tank storage capacity of 4 million barrels.

The New Haven terminal is crucial not only for its size, but also because it supplies a fuel pipeline that runs north through central Connecticut, supplying key points in Rocky Hill, East Hartford, at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks and into Springfield, Mass.

Contamination tied to flooding had stalled operations at the New Haven terminal last year, and Michael Fox, executive director of the Stamford-based Gasoline and Automotive Dealers Association of America, said reopening the terminal Tuesday — even in a limited capacity — is good news.

Fox, whose group represents more than a third of Connecticut’s nearly 1,400 licensed gasoline stations, said it is too soon to say how many stations statewide are unable to serve motorists.

“It’s kind of freakish,” Fox said Tuesday morning. “I have guys here with no gas, but power, and I have some right nearby with power, but no gas.”

Though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy lifted the bans he imposed Monday on highway travel, Fox said that business closings and the power outages should keep demand at most gasoline stations down by at least 50 percent — assuming consumers follow trends set by past storms of similar intensity and damage.

On the other hand, though, demand for fuel was up about 30 percent over normal levels over the past weekend as motorists sought to top off their vehicles before Hurricane Sandy hit.

Fox said state officials and Washington took important steps this week to help the fuel market get back on its feet.

Connecticut waived restrictions on how long truckers can be on the road, enabling them to reach more customers each day. And a federal waiver on weight limits on fuel delivering trucks also will make it easier to assist more stations each day.

The time waiver was sought by the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association, which represents about 600 gasoline distributors, home heating oil dealers, and gasoline stations.

The ICPA’s executive director, Eugene A. Guilford Jr., said his office sought permission to extend the maximum hours certain types of drivers can remain on the road in one dayfrom 11 to 13.

This seemingly modest increase, which Malloy’s administration approved on Friday, means gasoline distributors have a much wider range of options to choose when purchasing fuel for local stations.

Though initial reports were positive at New Haven harbor, and a smaller terminal in New London was operating Tuesday, another secondary terminal — in Bridgeport — still wasn’t operating Tuesday afternoon because of complications tied to flooding and power outages.

But Guilford said the extra time limit makes it easier for more distributors to travel a little farther to secure gasoline they otherwise could not. Functioning terminals in two Boston suburbs, Revere and Everett, Mass., as well as in Providence, now can help mitigate gasoline lines, particularly in eastern Connecticut, Guilford said. “There are a lot of options available to us now in the region,” he said.

The second waiver, granted by the federal government, increases by 15 percent the weight limit on fuel trucks. The current limit of 80,000 pounds — enough to carry about 6,500 gallons of fuel — rose to 92,000 pounds, or about 8,100 gallons.

And those extra 1,600 gallons can make a huge difference, Guilford said, given that a delivery as small as 3,000 gallons may be enough to keep the pumps on for another day at one station in the first few days after a storm.

The president of Connecticut’s largest trucking association said Tuesday that many of his group’s 900 businesses are ready to resume operations.

“We’re ready to roll,” said Michael Riley of the Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, who also predicted that the driving time limit waiver and positive preliminary signs at the New Haven terminal will mitigate — though not eliminate — the long, slow recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

“These are really important things that will help, not only with the transportation of petroleum products, but it will make it easier to move construction materials, sand and gravel,” he said.

Follow Keith on Twitter.