* Regional gasoline demand down only 4 pct in latest week
* Motorists filled before storm, bought generator fuel after
* Only 9 of 57 terminals in Sandy’s path still shut on Tues
By Selam Gebrekidan
NEW YORK, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Superstorm Sandy had a relatively small impact on regional gasoline demand, despite wreaking havoc on the New York fuel hub that will persist for weeks, with a major refinery shut and long lines persisting at gas stations on Tuesday.
Weekly data from MasterCard Inc showed gasoline sales in the central Atlantic region dipped by less than 4 percent last week. Last week, the region accounted for nearly 13 percent of all gasoline sales in the United States.
MasterCard, which estimates gasoline demand based on credit card, cash and other payments at service stations, said consumers filled up on the weekend before the storm and bought fuel to power portable generators after. This tempered the year-over-year drop in demand during the days when motorists stayed off the road.
Gasoline sales on Saturday and Sunday rose to 70 million to 80 million barrels, twice as much as other weekends, according to John Gamel, gasoline analyst with MasterCard.
“That’s why this was not as bad as (Hurricane) Katrina but we still saw year-over-year declines,” Gamel said, referring to the 2005 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast and reduced weekly U.S. demand by nearly 12 percent from 2004 levels right after the storm.
Last year’s Halloween snow storm, which briefly stopped traffic in the northeast, skewed the yearly comparisons as well.
The storm-ravaged region faces a powerful Nor‘easter forecast to arrive as early as Wednesday bringing heavy winds, rain and snow to New Jersey and New York.
Demand in the central Atlantic region fell more than it did in the rest of the country. Average demand nationwide dropped 2.4 percent from a year earlier, the data showed.
Sandy flooded the New York region’s second-largest refinery, cut power to dozens of terminals in New York and New Jersey and choked the New York Harbor with debris.
A week later, some infrastructure was still struggling to come back. Phillips 66 has said its flooded 238,000 barrels-per-day Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey will not return to service for two to three weeks.
But much the area’s energy network was recovering. On Tuesday, just nine of the 57 terminals in Sandy’s path were shut, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Seven of these were in New Jersey, including Motiva Enterprise’s 5-million-barrel Sewaren tank farm, where cleanup efforts were nearly complete after two tankers spilled 378,000 gallons of diesel into the Arthur Kill waterway.
Colonial Pipeline resumed service to eight of the more than 20 customer terminals linked to its Linden, New Jersey terminal, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.
Still, gasoline lines got longer in the Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island boroughs of New York City on Tuesday. Some small pumping stations in the city and across the Hudson in Union city and Jersey city were still closed. About 24 percent of gas stations in the New York metropolitan area did not have gasoline, with levels unchanged from Monday, the energy department said.
Travel Group AAA estimated about a third of gasoline stations were still without fuel in New Jersey.
Yet, relief was on the way. The U.S. Coast Guard said it expected five tankers to bring gasoline shipments to the New York Harbor between Tuesday and Sunday.
Energy companies were racing to bring tankers from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the New York Harbor less than a week after the federal government issued a waiver to a law that keeps foreign tankers from transporting fuels between ports. BP was early to start, after it reportedly chartered two foreign ships
With oil traders standing to make $2 million in profits from each extra tanker, the region could soon have more gasoline than it needs.