AAA: Nashville has worst gas shortage in Southeast

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nashville continues to see the worst gasoline shortage in the Southeast, the region hardest hit by supply problems after Hurricane Ike.

Problems are also reported in metro Atlanta and Tallahassee, Fla., said AAA spokesman Randy Bly.

“But you guys (in Nashville) rate number one,” Bly said.

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Long lines and empty pumps have become common in Tennessee’s second-largest city since Friday morning.

Gov. Phil Bredesen said Friday afternoon that the pipeline to Nashville, which had been full only sporadically since Hurricane Ike hit Texas, was running at top capacity. However, that did not seem to stop the run on gas over the weekend.

Emily LeRoy, associate director for the Tennessee Oil Marketers Association, said a supply shortage and panic buying are combining to create the problem. Nine major refineries were still off-line Monday in the Texas Gulf Coast.

Tennessee, on average, has had gasoline coming in at about 20 percent capacity over the last week, she said.

Oil companies are shipping refined oil into Nashville by barge and sending tankers as far as Pennsylvania to help meet demand, she said.

“But it takes a while for our retailers to get up and going and restock. We’re asking the public to give us a little breathing room,” she said.

LeRoy said she has heard from retailers that some people are following tankers around town in the hopes of being the first in line at full pumps.

“I would not advise it,” she said. “They may be driving to a terminal to wait in line for five hours.”

Tennessee has one pipeline that comes through Chattanooga, where there is a terminal. It then splits to terminals in Nashville and Knoxville, LeRoy said. Both are ends of the line.

The Memphis terminal, which has not seen shortages, is on a different pipeline, and the city also has the state’s only refinery, she said.

Jonathan Edwards owns 40 stations, mostly Shell brand, in southern Middle Tennessee and northeastern Alabama. All weekend his tankers fueling up in Nashville have been allowed only 50 percent of their August allocation.

“But they’ve told me they’re going to bump it up to 100 percent tonight,” he said on Monday. “Still, it takes a while to erase a two-week deficit. People just need to exercise some restraint. The world is not coming to an end.”

AAA’s Bly agreed.

“If people are panicking and topping off their tanks, that could well put a strain on supply even under normal conditions,” he said.

LeRoy said Nashville stations reported double their normal fuel sales on Friday — a sign of panic buying that seemed to be continuing Monday.

A week earlier in Knoxville, panic buying accompanied a price spike that briefly left the city with the highest average gas prices in the nation at $4.65 a gallon.

Bly said prices have come down all over the state since then. In Nashville, Monday’s average was $4.08. In Knoxville it was $3.53. In Chattanooga it was $3.91, and in Memphis it was $3.72.

Bly said he expects prices to continue to fall.

He also thinks the shortage in Nashville may have been exacerbated by the Tennessee Titans-Houston Texans NFL game Sunday.

“At least you guys won,” he said.