Palm Beach County gas prices surge in Harvey’s wake

5:52 p.m Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 Local
Gas prices on the rise in Tequesta, Florida on August 31, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County gasoline prices are shooting up, with some stations increasing prices as much as 25 cents a gallon in the last couple of days.

Florida receives most of its gasoline from Gulf Coast refineries by ship or truck. With refinery output still not back to normal following Hurricane Harvey, gas prices are expected to creep up some more.

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The Palm Beach County average for a gallon of regular rose 6 cents overnight Thursday, to $2.50. That jump follows a 4-cent increase overnight on Wednesday, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report. A week ago, the average was $2.38.

Florida’s average increased Thursday to $2.40 a gallon from $2.34 on Wednesday. It was $2.30 a week ago. But those averages have been surpassed by numerous individual gas stations across the county, a Palm Beach Post comparison shows.

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AAA spokesman Joshua Carrasco said Thursday, “We expect gas prices to rise another 5 to 10 cents over the next week. Once we can assess what, if any, damage has been done to Gulf Coast refineries, we will have a clearer idea of where gas prices are headed.”

While some Texas refineries were beginning to restart operations Wednesday as Tropical Storm Harvey moved into Louisiana, others were bringing plants down, S&P Global Platts said. This caused a further reduction in available capacity.

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Motiva, Total and Valero shut their Port Arthur, Texas, plants, although Valero was preparing to restart its Corpus Christi and Three Rivers refineries and Marathon was restarting its Texas City plant, Platts said.

The Port Arthur outages bring the storm-related outages to 3.04 million barrels a day, or 16 percent of total U.S. capacity. Assuming refiners in the process of returning are at 50 percent of capacity, the total downed capacity rises to 4 million barrels a day, 22 percent of the U.S. total, Platts said.

The Houston-Galveston port complex remains closed, but port officials hope to restart limited ship movements soon, the Greater Houston Port Bureau told Platts on Wednesday.

The Port of Corpus Christi Authority said Thursday the ship channel has re-opened.

AAA’s Carrasco said that because of the slump in Gulf Coast refinery operations, Florida is receiving more gasoline from other locations such as New York Harbor and Europe.

While the Colonial Pipeline Terminal in Bainbridge, Ga., serves some Florida Panhandle cities such as Pensacola and Panama City, the pipeline’s partial closure is not expected to impact gasoline supplies.

“Those traveling in the Southeast, especially areas like Georgia and Tennessee, will see higher price spikes than other areas of the country. Those states get the majority of their gasoline from the Colonial Pipeline. At this point, we are not forecasting any widespread outages,” Carrasco said.

As of Thursday morning, Colonial said its Lines 1 and 2 were continuing to operate from Lake Charles, La., east. The lines from Houston to Hebert, Texas, remained down due to the storms.

“We currently estimate that we will be able to return to service from Houston Sunday, following an evaluation of our infrastructure and successful execution of our start up plan,” Colonial said.

Most of Florida’s gasoline is supplied through Port Everglades, Port Miami, Port of Tampa, Jacksonville Port, Port Manatee and Port Canaveral.

Palm Beach County is served 100 percent by Port Everglades. Three-quarters of the refined gasoline delivered to Port Everglades comes from refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi along the Gulf Coast. The rest comes from the Caribbean basin, South America, Europe and other oil-exporting companies, according to the port’s website.

Gasoline is pumped from the ships at the port into large white storage tanks. Tanker trucks line up at the port to fill their tanks with approximately 8,000 to 12,000 gallons of gas each. The trucks then travel to gas stations in 12 South Florida counties.

Port Everglades spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy said Thursday, “There has not been any disruption to services.”

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