Government waives Jones Act in race to ease fuel shortages in Hurricane Sandy battered Northeast
Foreign tankers to be allowed into ports from Gulf of Mexico and military to bring in reserve supplies for emergency services
The US government is scrambling to ease fuel shortages paralysing the north-east in the wake of superstorm Sandy, saying the military will buy motor fuel and truck it there and allow foreign tankers from the Gulf of Mexico to deliver petroleum products.The homeland security department has waived the Jones Act, a law that normally prohibits foreign-flagged vessels from shipping gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products from the Gulf of Mexico to north-eastern ports. The waiver, effective immediately, requires shipments to leave the Gulf region by 13 November and arrive in the north-east within a week.With power still out at many ports and gasoline stations hit by Sandy, and as petroleum supplies were robust before the storm, it was unclear how much fuel was needed immediately and how quickly it could get to customers.
The US death toll hit 102 on Friday; Sandy had earlier killed 69 people as a hurricane the Caribbean, leaving poorer countries like Haiti struggling to cope. It struck the New Jersey coast on Monday as a rare hybrid superstorm after the hurricane merged with a powerful storm system in the north Atlantic. While power returned to much of Manhattan on Friday, residents of some of the hardest-hit areas still faced a long wait for electricity
There were long lines outside gas stations around New York and New Jersey on Friday as supplies ran low. In the New York City borough of Queens, a man was accused of pulling a gun during a confrontation with a motorist who accused him of cutting in line.
At noon on Friday the line for gas at the Shell station in the Brooklyn Heights area of Brooklyn weaved around three blocks and stretched back for almost half a mile. “I’ve been here two and a half hours,” said Brian Temporosa. “I’ve been empty for probably two days now. Luckily I haven’t run out yet but if I’m here for another 15 minutes then yeah, I might run out of gas.”
Krystyne Todaro, 45, had travelled a quarter of a mile to the Shell station in two and a half hours. “This is the worst of what I’ve had to deal with so far, so I’m OK. It is what it is,” she said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded to widespread criticism by reversing a decision to go ahead with the New York Marathon. Bloomberg insisted the race could have gone ahead safely but said the controversy was distracting from the rescue effort.
The energy department announced that it was tapping the Northeast Heating Reserve for the first time, releasing about 48,000 barrels of ultra-low sulphur diesel for the defence department to distribute to local and federal emergency services in New York and New Jersey.The fuel will be used to supply emergency equipment, generators, buildings, trucks and other vehicles.
The defence department will begin drawing down as soon as Saturday from the reserve, created 12 years ago, which holds about a million barrels of diesel. It expects to give back the fuel within 30 days.
In another move to ease the shortages the Obama administration directed the Defence Logistics Agency to purchase up to 380,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline and 317,000 barrels of diesel for distribution to storm-stricken areas. This purchase would be delivered by tanker trucks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
Earlier in the week the administration waived clean gasoline rules throughout most of the eastern seaboard as it struggled to take action after the deadly storm.
Homeland security said it had received only one request from a company, which it did not identify, to waive the Jones Act. The law was created to support domestic jobs in the shipping industry and requires goods moved between US ports to be carried by ships built domestically and staffed by US crews.
The American Maritime Partnership (AMP), a domestic maritime industry group, said it was not aware of any cases where US vessels had not been available to transport fuel but it supported waivers in the aftermath of the massive storm. “We will not oppose waivers that are necessary to facilitate delivery of petroleum products into the regions affected by hurricane Sandy,” AMP said in a letter to Obama and heads of several government departments.
Shipping sources said the slow return of power to ports in the New York Harbour had them considering delivering fuel to nearby cities such as Boston.
Energy experts said the waiver might not bring immediate relief to fuel-strapped New York and New Jersey, where two refineries were shut by Sandy. But in the longer term shipping alternatives could help ensure steady supply throughout the north-east.
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