Fears spur gas shortage
Industry leaders say supply system strained but poised to catch up

CONYERS - Long lines at some gas stations while others had bags over their pumps have had motorists thinking "here we go again."

Samuel Jones of Covington sat in his car waiting for a pump to open up at the RaceWay on Salem Road on Tuesday. He said he was driving home from Decatur and felt lucky to find a gas station open.

"Everybody's out," said Jones, who works as a private investigator. "This is my sixth station driving home and the first one to have some gas."

The scene at many local gas stations has been reminiscent of what it was like during the last gas run in 2005 when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, shutting down several oil refineries.

This time, it is Hurricane Ike being blamed for the gas run. People can still buy gas, but one can only wonder what's going on when the QuikTrip, Ingles on Salem Road and BJ's Warehouse on Dogwood Drive are out of gas as they were early this week.

Jim Tudor, president of the Georgia Convenience Store Operators Association, said the east side of Atlanta appeared to be in better shape than other parts of the metro area. Member stores here told Tudor they had not experienced the panic buying that has been seen elsewhere.

Tudor explained that this shortage has been caused by customers' frequent topping off of their tanks due to uncertainty about the gas supply.

"(Having a full tank) might make you feel better, but it also puts a tremendous strain on the system's ability to recover," he said, "because the system is not designed for everyone to have a full tank of gas, and it never has been."

Tudor, a Newton County resident, illustrated the problem referring to a conversation with a friend, who said he drove by three gas stations, all of which were out of gas, leading him to pull into a fourth station to fill up. Tudor said his friend did this even though his gas tank was three-quarters full.

"You're filling up, but you have three-quarters of a tank," he said. "That's gas you normally wouldn't buy."

Tudor said refineries are coming back on line, but people have to give the supply system a chance to recover. He encouraged motorists to conserve fuel by not topping off their tanks, carpooling to work and cutting out unnecessary car trips.

QuikTrip is dealing with the gas shortage by strategically not supplying some stores as a way to ensure other stores remain open with gas, according to company spokesman Mike Thornbrugh.

He said the company learned a lesson with hurricanes Katrina and Rita when there was a run on gas at all of company's stores. That appeared to be the strategy at work in Conyers on Tuesday, where the Salem Road store remained out of gas while the store located at Ga. Highway 138 and Old Covington Highway remained open. The Covington QuikTrip has also not been out of gas this week.

"We took each quadrant of Atlanta to make sure (a percentage) of QuikTrips remain open north, south, east and west," said Thornbrugh. "The alternative was that they were all going to run out if we couldn't manage it, and it would cause more chaos than it was worth."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.