(Updates throughout with details on refinery activity)
NEW YORK Feb 8 (Reuters) - East Coast refiners continued to operate normally while fuel deliveries into the New York Harbor were not affected as a major winter storm bore down on the region.
Motorists, mindful of the severe fuel disruptions after Hurricane Sandy shut down refineries, pipelines and harbor traffic, rushed to buy gasoline, leading to some shortages in parts of New York City.
But so far, refiners reported no impact from the storm. Phillips 66 said its 238,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey was operating normally. Hess said its Port Reading plant, as well as its terminals, were making preparations to maintain operations during the storm.
Both Port Reading and Bayway were shut during Sandy.
Coast Guard officials said shipping at the New York Harbor, the delivery point for the U.S. gasoline futures contract, was operating with only ”first stage’ restrictions due to higher than normal winds.
Fuel deliveries were still being made into the New York Harbor on Friday, the Coast Guard said.
“At this time, there are only first-stage restrictions due to sustained gusts of wind above 25 knots (29 mph),” said Petty Officer Erik Swanson, a Coast Guard spokesman
“Lightering and bunkering continues,” Swanson added, saying the Coast Guard will monitor the storm.
Sustained gusts of wind above 34 knots (39 mph) would lead the Coast Guard to stop deliveries of fuel from barges in the New York Harbor.
Restrictions in the Harbor require ships in anchorages to keep their engines on and tug boats nearby in case they need to be moved should winds get stronger.
A Reuters photographer reported at least three service stations had run out of gas in the borough of Queens on Friday morning, with long lines forming at others.
“We’ve seen some lines at stations in the southern part of the state ahead of the storm, which may actually help prevent problems after the storm,” said Ralph Bombardiere, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops.
“I‘m not expecting anything like the vast power outages and problems we had with Sandy.”
Oil traders around the New York Harbor, which is the delivery point for the benchmark RBOB gasoline and heating oil contracts, said the storm was having little impact on fuel prices in the physical market.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, RBOB and heating oil futures were both up around 1.5 percent near $3.05 a gallon and $3.24 a gallon respectively, in line with a rise in Brent crude oil prices. (Reporting By David Sheppard, Robert Gibbons, Kristen Hays, Sabina Zawadzki, Erwin Seba and Cezary Podkul; Editing by Todd Eastham; editing by Andrew Hay)