| LINDEN, New Jersey
LINDEN, New Jersey Nov 27 At the small Gulf Oil
terminal just south of Newark, New Jersey, mobile power
generators are being packed up and tanker trucks are again
loading gasoline, one month after Superstorm Sandy. But for the
seven workers who run the terminal around the clock, life is
still far from normal.
The electronic gauges that allow them to see how much fuel
is stored at the site's eight vast tanks are down, forcing them
to manually check each unit when new fuel arrives by pipeline.
The motor for the electric gate to the facility, normally opened
and closed for each truck, is still broken after being flooded.
They now oversee the disbursement of more than 1 million
gallons of gasoline, diesel and heating oil a day from a tiny
temporary trailer. The concrete building that had been their
office - scarcely larger than a corner convenience store - was
destroyed in the storm, says terminal manager John Lamparella.
For a full story on the recovery see:
Operations at the Gulf terminal finally began to normalize a
week ago, Lamparella said, when customers were first able to
load their full quotas, or allocations.
"We're close to full capacity. We have one bay down now, but
we're moving the trucks in and out," he said. Even so, he said
the facility is encountering "intermittent" problems.
"We're going to be living with this for six months before we
get everything back to 100 percent normal."
Lamparella's tale offers the most detailed view yet of how
Sandy carved a deep scar across the biggest oil trading hub in
the country, and how dozens of bulk terminals that break vast
tanker or pipeline deliveries into smaller truck-sized shipments
emerged as the most vulnerable links in the supply chain.
SHUT THE VALVES
The Gulf Oil terminal, the only one the company runs in New
York harbor, is 13 miles southwest of Manhattan in Linden, New
Jersey, a critical crossroads for New York's fuel supply. The
area's biggest pipeline, two major refineries, a dozen big
terminals and hundreds of fuel tanks are within a five-mile
For Lamparella, the initial focus was on protecting the
eight towering fuel tanks, capable of holding more than 20
million gallons of fuel in total. Although the terminal is two
miles inland from the Arthur Kill, the waterway separating
Staten Island and New Jersey, it abuts the Rahway River.
"We initially thought we might have problem in the tank
farm, not in the office," said Lamparella.
On Oct. 29 Jeff Bowers was the lone employee at the site. At
6 p.m. EST, just before the storm reached shore, he stopped
loading tanker trucks at the facility's eight "racks," the
equivalent of super-charged self-service fuel pumps that can
fill hundreds of trucks a day, as often as every 20 minutes.
Bowers rushed to manually close the "outfall valves" that
are normally used to drain rainwater from the large basins - or
"tank dikes" - that surround each tank.
"With the high tide, full moon and the storm surge we were
worried that water could go back up the valves, flooding the
dike area," said Lamparella, who has worked in the industry for
decades and at the Gulf terminal for five years.
If too much water collects in the dike area empty tanks
could potentially float off their foundations - like fat, round
battleships - ripping out costly piping or causing spills.
"While he was out there doing that, the flood waters started
Bowers returned to the office to safeguard two critical
computer systems just as the water crept in. Lamparella, in
touch by phone, told him to get out of the building. He huddled
in his truck for the night, waiting for the tide to go out and
the two-foot flood waters that had swamped the office to drain.
The next morning Lamparella found the tanks had been saved,
but the terminal was without power, electrical systems flooded
with corrosive seawater, the loading area strewn with storm
debris and operations bedeviled by a host of glitches. Lead
paint and asbestos in the office building will need to be
remediated; crucial regulatory papers were a soggy mess.
COULD BE WORSE
Although other terminals suffered more severe damage or fuel
spills, the process of resuming fuel supplies in Linden was
arduous. The first challenge was restoring power, which had been
severed to Linden and much of eastern New Jersey.
Lamparella said it took about a week to rent a portable
generator large enough to power the terminal. Gulf Oil, a
Framingham, Massachusetts-based company best known for its
network of 2,000 gas stations on the East Coast, had secured
several small ones for use at some retail outlets, but they were
too weak for the team's wholesale pumps.
Then it was a case of running it. Because the terminal was
not equipped with the plug-in units required to easily connect a
generator, workers had to disconnect electrical circuits from
the grid to power up, a process that took about six hours. Power
was restored a week later, but a second storm then triggered
another blackout, forcing them to rev up the generator again.
Getting fuel for the units was also not as simple as it
seems, despite the vast tanks in the near distance. Workers
tapped into a small on-site pipelines to divert fuel; in one
case they loaded up a tank truck at the rack in order to deliver
it to a 1,000-gallon generator reservoir just a few feet away.
Even with backup power and working computer systems,
Internet connectivity stymied operations in the first few weeks.
The terminal's Comcast link had gone down and their backup
system - an AT&T cell system - was spotty. Without access to the
central system, there was no way to validate fuel trucks when
drivers swiped their individual cards to load up.
MORE WORK FOR US
Four weeks after Sandy, the big generator is finally being
returned, but months of work remain. The electronic gate is
idle, and the remote gauges that monitor how much fuel is stored
in Gulf's big white and gray tanks are still not working.
As his team regularly trudge out across six-foot berms that
segregate the tanks to check on fuel levels, Lamparella is
resigned to months of extra effort to keep the gasoline flowing.
"It just means more work for us," says Lamparella.