Peter Lanci spent two days trying to find gasoline in Nassau County, on Long Island, driving by nine closed gas stations and finding only one that was open – with about 150 cars waiting in line.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Lanci, an accountant, decided to try his luck 25 miles away in neighboring Suffolk County. He was able to fill up his tank, and two gas containers, all in just 25 minutes.
Even as the gas shortage gripping the New York region has eased, relief has not come equally to everyone. Drivers like Mr. Lanci have found to their frustration that shuttered pumps and long lines persist in New York City and Nassau County, while they have dwindled in much of New Jersey, Suffolk and New York north of the city.
“This is hitting us really hard because we have to drive the kids back and forth to school, so we need gas,” Mr. Lanci said.
Industry experts offered one explanation for this story of gasoline’s haves and have-nots. A critical factor, they said, is where an area’s supply normally comes from. The gasoline distribution system is a sprawling, decentralized network made up of gas stations that have different contracts with distributors to transport gasoline from regional terminals. Those terminals, in turn, receive and store gas deposited by barges and tankers.
Many New York City gas stations rely on distribution terminals in Brooklyn and Queens that were damaged by the storm, or lost power, and have not come back fully, the experts said. Similarly, a major fuel terminal for Nassau County located in Inwood, N.Y., has been operating at reduced capacity.
“It’s a lot of logistics behind the scenes that will determine why the shortage is better in some areas than in others,” said Patrick DeHaan, who works for Gasbuddy.com, which has been tracking which stations have fuel in the New York region. By Wednesday, 75 percent of New York City’s gas stations were still without gas, compared with a regional average of 24 percent, according to the site.
Mr. DeHaan added that such logistical problems had been made worse by panic buying among drivers who saw the lines and felt the need to stock up themselves. Drivers, he said, have shown “a sudden, insatiable demand for gasoline. That’s placing the system under enormous stress.”
Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA, pointed out that many gas stations initially could not sell gas because the power failure had cut off their pumps. But as power has been restored to more stations, he said, the continuing gas problems have focused attention on the gas distribution network.
“This week, it is shifting more to being a supply-system problem: getting gasoline from storage to distribution terminals to gas stations to the car you drive,” he said.
At a Getty station in the Bronx, an attendant sat glumly behind the counter on Wednesday because he had no gas to pump. The attendant, Kofi Osobaye, said that the station never lost power after the storm, but that its distributor had not brought any more gas despite his repeated pleas.
“I’m still waiting; I don’t know when it’s coming,” said Mr. Osobaye, who has been turning away more than 30 customers a day. “It’s very bad for business.”
Federal energy officials reported that 9 of 57 petroleum terminals affected by the storm remained shut on Wednesday. Of those, seven were in New Jersey, one in Brooklyn and one on Long Island.
Still, industry experts said that the gas shortage had abated more quickly in New Jersey because most terminals in the southern part of the state were not damaged, and gas stations there are closer to major refineries and transportation routes than, say, their New York City counterparts. In addition, state officials adopted a rationing system that helped control demand, the experts said.
Even though New York distributors have been trying to find alternatives to damaged terminals, they are still transporting less gas to stations than they normally do, said Ralph Bombardiere, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops. He estimated there were about 800 distributors in the state.
Mr. Bombardiere said federal and local efforts to address the gas shortage had been slowed by a lack of understanding about the gas distribution system. For instance, he said, barges carrying oil were unable to dock at regional terminals for days after the storm because New York Harbor remained closed.
“Someone in a tie should have said, ‘Where are the barges?’ ” he said. “It must have taken 10 to 15 telephone calls to get that message out. In case of a crisis, they have to start at the beginning.”