Harvey, Irma wreak havoc on gas prices, supply

Fuel shortage panics Florida evacuees

A motorist arrives to the find plastic bags covering the handles of empty gasoline pumps in Parrish, Florida, as residents evacuate parts of the state ahead of Hurricane Irma. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

While evacuees in Florida encounter gasoline shortages as they flee Hurricane Irma, drivers in the rest of the country are still dealing with the effects of Tropical Storm Harvey, which has added more than 30 cents to the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded.

Drivers in all 50 states have seen gas prices go up, with the average reaching $2.69 at mid-morning Friday before ticking down slightly, according to Gas Buddy. That's compared to $2.35 on Aug. 25, when then-Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the southeast coast of Texas.

Earlier this week, Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst at Gas Buddy, reported that the shutdown of more than a dozen rain-flooded refineries in the Houston area had caused the largest one-week price increase in more than a decade.

“Thanks to Harvey shutting down an extensive amount of refining capacity, the national average gasoline price saw its largest weekly jump since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 when the national average jumped 49 cents in a week," DeHaan said. "It’s been one of the most challenging weeks faced in years.”

Eighteen states saw an average one-week price increase of more 30 cents, ranging from 42 cents in Delaware to 36 cents in the Carolinas. As of Friday morning, Hawaii posted the highest average price per gallon, $3.36, nearly a dollar more than in Oklahoma, where it was the lowest at $2.37.

DeHaan said the worst may be over, although prices are likely to remain elevated until refining capacity returns to normal, which could take several weeks.

Meanwhile, petroleum analysts are watching Hurricane Irma, which could hit Florida on Sunday. Fuel supplies were already tight in in the state when Gov. Rick Scott ordered the mandatory evacuation of more than 650,000 people from the Miami area.

The order to evacuate has resulted in slow-moving, bumper-to-bumper traffic along major routes, such Interstate 75 and the Florida Turnpike. By Friday morning, retailers in the state were reporting severe gasoline shortages, with growing numbers of stations running out.

By Friday, 60 percent of gas stations in Gainesville were without gas, according to Gas Buddy' gas-availability tracker. Nearly half the stations in the West Palm Beach area and 40 percent in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area were out as well.

Efforts to get more fuel into key areas of the state are underway. On Thursday, Scott ordered the Florida Highway Patrol to begin escorting fuel tankers to gas stations that need resupplying, while some retailers were working with wholesalers to bring in shipments from the Gulf coast.

Unlike Texas, Florida has no refineries, so Irma will not cause a major spike in prices at the pump, DeHaan said. However, there could be "varying impacts" in some states until forecasters have a better bead on the storm's path.

"Gas prices are unlikely to see a similar increase with Irma if the storm does not target the sensitive heart of the Gulf, where much of the South’s oil infrastructure stands," he said.