A dummy’s guide to the gas crisis left by Sandy: How to fuel up and save what you’ve got

Sandy’s effects, big and small: Residents of New Jersey try to fill up containers with petrol.
Sandy’s effects, big and small: Residents of New Jersey try to fill up containers with petrol.
Image: Ap Photo/ Julio Cortez
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Now that power is slowly returning  to much of the New York-New Jersey region after Hurricane Sandy, there’s a new dividing line of the haves and have-nots: Gas.

For days, my New York City neighborhood list-serv has been a study in strategy: Which petrol pumps still have any left? Where are the lines shortest? Can anyone give me a lift to work? Repeat thread.

Politicians’ responses are a study in contrasts: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asks for calm. He said 8 million gallons of gas have been delivered and 28 million more are on their way.

Oh, but the military’s getting involved. Troops are bringing in millions of gallons and setting up distribution centers across the region. Here’s a list. But remember, there’s “no reason to panic,” says Cuomo.

New Jersey isn’t listening. Governor Chris Christie just started rationing gas. (Yes, like during the oil crisis of the 1970s.) In the hardest hit areas, vehicles with license plates ending in an even number can fill up at stations on even days of the month, while those with odd can on the odd days. The state of New Jersey also agrees with your math teacher: Zero is an even number.

So which politician’s outlook to believe? Will this last much longer or just a few more days? It’s important, first, to understand why this happened. I asked Quartz’s energy-obsessed Steve LeVine to break it down for me. He told me:

Gasoline is a just-in-time industry. The flow of oil to the refineries, and from there the gasoline to gas stations is usually like clockwork. There is gasoline stored in gigantic tanks in a pinch. But in gasoline terms, Sandy has been the perfect storm. It shut down refineries. It disrupted ships coming from abroad. It shut down bridges required for tankers to get to gas stations. And it shut down electricity needed for gasoline stations to pump the gasoline they have.

When will it end? That clearly depends on when all of the above factors are fixed. A fabulous Quartz feature from this week allows you to actually see the oil tankers arrive.

Until they make it to your local pump, here are some gas-saving tips to help you get the most from those precious remaining gallons. These are culled from Good Housekeeping’s site, The Daily Green, cutting out the ones you might not have time for (when normalcy has returned, please do check your air filter, tune up, align and inflate those tires.)

  1. Tighten your gas cap.
  2. Slow down. For every 5 mph you slow down, you reduce fuel consumption by 7%.
  3. Drive smoothly. Jerky motions, fits and starts, eat up more gas.
  4. Don’t ride the brakes.
  5. Lighten your load. Every extra 100 pounds in a car loses 1-2% in fuel efficiency.
  6. Stop idling. If you’re going to stop for more than 30 seconds, just turn the car off. Similarly, there’s no need to warm the car up. Start and go.