In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a common thought prevailed among those in New Jersey who had cars — “What if the gas stations run out of gas?” As people panicked and drove off to find the nearest gas pump and long lines formed, those lines prompted other people to think that there must be a shortage if there’s a long line and so they join the line, too. And thus begins a cycle that has caused some emotional flare-ups at the pump.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger says this kind of herd mentality is sparking fights at the gas stations around the state as storm-weary consumers queue up to top off.
“Unfortunately, that’s very typical behavior after a hurricane,” said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy, a website that tracks gasoline trends. “Even if they know their car is going to stay parked, they still panic and go and fill up the tank. It exacerbates the problem.”
Those in the know say it’s hard to tell yet whether or not there’s an actual gas shortage, but because everyone is already lined up bumper-to-bumper waiting for it, the situation already feels dire. Besides filling up cars that might be needed to carry them elsewhere as the cleanup commences, others were toting gas canisters to carry fuel for their generators.
In Morristown, things got so bad the police issued a “gridlock alert” warning consumers: “Avoid Morristown. Gas stations are out of fuel, please make other arrangements.” The mayor of Bloomfield says there were eight incidents at gas stations that erupted over fights about people cutting in line at gas stations.
Four of six Northeast refineries that were affected by Sandy are open, a number which could impact supply. But the gas companies are doing their best, they say, to get the fuel flowing again.
“We’re working very hard to resume operations so we can supply our customers,” a Phillips 66 spokesman said, explaining that workers were trying to assess the damage in order to eventually reopen.
In the meantime, the state Attorney General’s office says any stations who are found to be taking advantage of the panic and gouging customers would be in trouble if they hike prices more than is allowed by law.
Experts advise consumers to avoid the panic by only filling up your tank if it’s absolutely necessary, otherwise you’re just feeding into the chaos and potential shortage. Don’t feed the gas beast!
Gas panic: Sandy sparks long lines, short tempers as residents scramble to fill up [New Jersey Star-Ledger]