On Nov. 1, 2012, three days after Sandy struck Long...

On Nov. 1, 2012, three days after Sandy struck Long Island, people waited to fill their gas cans at the Hess station on Deer Park Avenue and Weeks Road in Deer Park. At one point, more than 60 people waited in line. Some were getting gas for generators, others filling the tanks in their cars. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Ten years after Superstorm Sandy caused massive outages that led to gas shortages on Long Island, more service stations can connect to backup power, and a beefed-up fuel supply system protects against potential gasoline disruptions.

But the resiliency of the backup system still is at the mercy of Mother Nature, industry experts said.

Climate experts have warned that natural disasters are expected to increase in severity, and another catastrophic weather event will test the gasoline industry’s ability to make sure fuel is available at the pump.

“They’ve taken many steps to strengthen the system, but nothing is foolproof. It depends on the severity of the hurricane," said Anthony Michael Sabino, a Long Island lawyer who specializes in the oil and gas industry and is also a law professor at The Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University in Queens.

"I mean, Lord help those poor folks in Florida. With respect to Ian, we saw how whole villages were wiped flat. There is only so much we can do to protect against Mother Nature. … But I can say with a fair degree of confidence that yes, the industry has hardened."

When Sandy struck Long Island on Oct. 29, 2012, the storm crippled the distribution link, shutting down refineries, terminals, service stations and even a major pipeline due to power outages and/or flooding. Some blackouts lasted more than two weeks, and some of the Island's 942 service stations remained shuttered for days or faced distribution hurdles. 

Marine barges carrying oil were unable to get through because terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey also closed, and tankers also had issues with distribution. One Inwood terminal suffered so much damage that it would be knocked out for two months.

As power was restored at service stations, chaotic scenes followed, with fed-up customers squabbling over who was first on endless gas lines. To compound matters, a collapse in communication on Nov. 4, 2012, led to drivers being turned away empty-handed after waiting in a six-hour, three-mile-long line for free gas from a military tanker truck in Freeport.

Nine days after the storm hit, AAA estimated that only 60% to 65% of Long Island stations were selling fuel, Newsday reported at the time. Stations that were open still had long lines. Then, odd-even rationing was instituted, based on license plate numbers. For example, drivers whose plates ended in an odd number could only buy gas on odd-numbered days.

To prevent massive outages, gas stations near an evacuation route or highway exits since have been required by law to install transfer switches that allow for backup power hookup during an emergency. Stations applied for financial assistance under the Fuel NY state program, which was designed to boost the industry. Some experts questioned whether the program was comprehensive enough.

There are 454 gas stations on Long Island that now have this device in place and can connect to backup power, according to Hanna Birkhead, a spokesperson with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which is responsible for making sure gas stations comply with the initiative. That is an increase since October 2017, when only 345 stations could be connected to backup power during an emergency.

Of those 454 stations, there are 127 with permanent or portable generators, and another 185 contracted with a generator supplier. Another 142 don’t have either a generator or a contract with a supplier despite having the transfer switches.

“There are stations that have contracted for a generator when needed. The problem is, if 300 people call for a generator during the same day or two-day period, during an emergency, I don’t know how fast they will get one. I don’t know if there are 300 available at any given time,” said Wayne Bombardiere, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops.

“That’s part of the problem, and the logistics of repositioning these generators to where they are needed in the region is a whole other transportation problem. There were roads and bridges that were messed up from Sandy,” said Bombardiere, who added that if there were ever another gas crisis, he would personally limit how much gas customers could purchase.

Kevin Beyer, vice president of government affairs for the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, believes there are still challenges that haven’t been addressed.

“Is there still going to be a problem? Of course there is, you’re still going to have people panic buying, and that creates issues,” Beyer said.

“Are we [gas stations] all going to be up and running? I don’t see that happening. Who is going to supply all the generators to the gas stations as promised through the Fuel NY program? If New York State can provide the generators like they said they would, then we should be OK,” Beyer said.

The Department of Agriculture and Markets said service stations that did not receive a permanent generator from the New York State Research and Development Authority during the initial round of Fuel NY funding are responsible for procuring their own generator during an emergency.

As for getting the gas to the stations, industry experts said important lessons since have been learned and that safeguards have strengthened the system. For instance, terminals have raised electrical and other equipment off the ground. At Carbo Industries, a waterfront terminal in Inwood, owner Cliff Hochhauser said his facility was shut down during Sandy for several days due to flooding. Despite reopening a few days later, there were issues getting deliveries, he said.

“Structurally, things have been updated and hopefully we’re prepared for another storm,” Hochhauser said, adding that his facility always will be vulnerable to flooding because it’s on the water.

“I hope it never happens again,” he said.

Tom Magno, a marketing director at Northville Industries, one of the Island’s major petroleum providers and one of the few that remained open after the storm, said several improvements have been made to hedge against another future major storm. The main issue was obtaining oil delivered via barge.

“Right now, I think we’re in pretty good shape in terms of the infrastructure,” Magno said.

Global Partners' terminal in Inwood, on the South Shore, was able to operate two days after the storm because its tanks already were elevated and it quickly accessed generators, according to a statement provided by spokesperson Catie Kerns. The terminal now has automatic backup generators and also has terminals in upstate New Windsor and Albany that can “provide redundant supply to the Long Island area,” the statement said. 

"Sandy was hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime thing … you can prepare but you’re never going to be 100%," Bombardiere said. "We did what we could to adhere to whatever they wanted us to and we’re going to hope for the best."

Ten years after Superstorm Sandy caused massive outages that led to gas shortages on Long Island, more service stations can connect to backup power, and a beefed-up fuel supply system protects against potential gasoline disruptions.

But the resiliency of the backup system still is at the mercy of Mother Nature, industry experts said.

Climate experts have warned that natural disasters are expected to increase in severity, and another catastrophic weather event will test the gasoline industry’s ability to make sure fuel is available at the pump.

“They’ve taken many steps to strengthen the system, but nothing is foolproof. It depends on the severity of the hurricane," said Anthony Michael Sabino, a Long Island lawyer who specializes in the oil and gas industry and is also a law professor at The Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University in Queens.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Another catastrophic weather event will test the gasoline industry’s ability to ensure fuel is available at the pump, experts said.
  • Safeguards have been implemented, including installation of transfer switches at 454 gas stations on Long Island that allow for backup power hookup.
  • Only 127 stations have permanent or portable generators, while another 185 stations have contracted with a generator supplier. There are 142 stations that don’t have either a generator or a contract with a supplier despite having the transfer switches.

"I mean, Lord help those poor folks in Florida. With respect to Ian, we saw how whole villages were wiped flat. There is only so much we can do to protect against Mother Nature. … But I can say with a fair degree of confidence that yes, the industry has hardened."

When Sandy struck Long Island on Oct. 29, 2012, the storm crippled the distribution link, shutting down refineries, terminals, service stations and even a major pipeline due to power outages and/or flooding. Some blackouts lasted more than two weeks, and some of the Island's 942 service stations remained shuttered for days or faced distribution hurdles. 

Marine barges carrying oil were unable to get through because terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey also closed, and tankers also had issues with distribution. One Inwood terminal suffered so much damage that it would be knocked out for two months.

As power was restored at service stations, chaotic scenes followed, with fed-up customers squabbling over who was first on endless gas lines. To compound matters, a collapse in communication on Nov. 4, 2012, led to drivers being turned away empty-handed after waiting in a six-hour, three-mile-long line for free gas from a military tanker truck in Freeport.

Nine days after the storm hit, AAA estimated that only 60% to 65% of Long Island stations were selling fuel, Newsday reported at the time. Stations that were open still had long lines. Then, odd-even rationing was instituted, based on license plate numbers. For example, drivers whose plates ended in an odd number could only buy gas on odd-numbered days.

Transfer switches required

To prevent massive outages, gas stations near an evacuation route or highway exits since have been required by law to install transfer switches that allow for backup power hookup during an emergency. Stations applied for financial assistance under the Fuel NY state program, which was designed to boost the industry. Some experts questioned whether the program was comprehensive enough.

There are 454 gas stations on Long Island that now have this device in place and can connect to backup power, according to Hanna Birkhead, a spokesperson with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which is responsible for making sure gas stations comply with the initiative. That is an increase since October 2017, when only 345 stations could be connected to backup power during an emergency.

Of those 454 stations, there are 127 with permanent or portable generators, and another 185 contracted with a generator supplier. Another 142 don’t have either a generator or a contract with a supplier despite having the transfer switches.

On Nov. 1, 2012, the search was on for gas....

On Nov. 1, 2012, the search was on for gas. This was the scene at a Gulf station on Route 110 in Farmingdale. Credit: Chris Ware

“There are stations that have contracted for a generator when needed. The problem is, if 300 people call for a generator during the same day or two-day period, during an emergency, I don’t know how fast they will get one. I don’t know if there are 300 available at any given time,” said Wayne Bombardiere, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops.

“That’s part of the problem, and the logistics of repositioning these generators to where they are needed in the region is a whole other transportation problem. There were roads and bridges that were messed up from Sandy,” said Bombardiere, who added that if there were ever another gas crisis, he would personally limit how much gas customers could purchase.

Kevin Beyer, vice president of government affairs for the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, believes there are still challenges that haven’t been addressed.

“Is there still going to be a problem? Of course there is, you’re still going to have people panic buying, and that creates issues,” Beyer said.

“Are we [gas stations] all going to be up and running? I don’t see that happening. Who is going to supply all the generators to the gas stations as promised through the Fuel NY program? If New York State can provide the generators like they said they would, then we should be OK,” Beyer said.

The Department of Agriculture and Markets said service stations that did not receive a permanent generator from the New York State Research and Development Authority during the initial round of Fuel NY funding are responsible for procuring their own generator during an emergency.

'Hope it never happens again'

As for getting the gas to the stations, industry experts said important lessons since have been learned and that safeguards have strengthened the system. For instance, terminals have raised electrical and other equipment off the ground. At Carbo Industries, a waterfront terminal in Inwood, owner Cliff Hochhauser said his facility was shut down during Sandy for several days due to flooding. Despite reopening a few days later, there were issues getting deliveries, he said.

“Structurally, things have been updated and hopefully we’re prepared for another storm,” Hochhauser said, adding that his facility always will be vulnerable to flooding because it’s on the water.

“I hope it never happens again,” he said.

Tom Magno, a marketing director at Northville Industries, one of the Island’s major petroleum providers and one of the few that remained open after the storm, said several improvements have been made to hedge against another future major storm. The main issue was obtaining oil delivered via barge.

“Right now, I think we’re in pretty good shape in terms of the infrastructure,” Magno said.

Global Partners' terminal in Inwood, on the South Shore, was able to operate two days after the storm because its tanks already were elevated and it quickly accessed generators, according to a statement provided by spokesperson Catie Kerns. The terminal now has automatic backup generators and also has terminals in upstate New Windsor and Albany that can “provide redundant supply to the Long Island area,” the statement said. 

"Sandy was hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime thing … you can prepare but you’re never going to be 100%," Bombardiere said. "We did what we could to adhere to whatever they wanted us to and we’re going to hope for the best."

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