Snyder declares energy emergency over fuel

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
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Gov. Rick Snyder issued an energy emergency declaration Tuesday over concerns of tightening gasoline supplies heading into Memorial Day weekend.

The governor’s action, he said, will loosen fuel transportation restrictions to ensure there will be enough gasoline for Michigan motorists following a shutdown of a fuel pipeline in Wisconsin and an unplanned outage of the Marathon refinery in Detroit.

His order, effective immediately, remains in force until it’s rescinded or until 11:59 p.m. on June 6.

“We want to make sure the fuel Michiganders need for their travels to work, school or a long weekend trip is available,” Snyder said in a statement. “This executive order will help ensure there are no artificial shortages of fuel impacting the state’s residents or visitors.”

Valerie Brader, executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, said the shutdown of the Wisconsin pipeline, which affects the Upper Peninsula, and the Detroit Marathon refinery outage were already having an impact.

“The difficulties with the shutdown of the only pipeline between Milwaukee and Green Bay, combined with what we hope will be a short-term outage of the Marathon refinery, are affecting prices at the pump and leading to long wait times at fueling terminals,” she said.

Brader and her agency work with state agencies, such as the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan State Police, to make recommendations regarding the declaration of energy emergencies.

While statewide gas prices Tuesday were up 20 cents over the past week, they still remain 30 cents below this time last year.

Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for the governor, said this is the first time Snyder has issued a statewide energy emergency order.

“The West Shore pipeline in Wisconsin was the initial issue,” she said. “But with the added Marathon issue, the wildfires in Canada, with all of these issues combined, the governor thought the whole state may experience problems, especially with the holiday weekend coming, and issued the order.”

Heaton said the last time Snyder declared an energy emergency over concerns with gasoline supplies was in July 2012. Because it involved fuel production problems in Wisconsin, the order was only aimed at helping motorists in the Upper Peninsula.

She also said the governor declared two similar states of energy emergency in the winter of 2013-14 to allow propane truck drivers to work longer hours to offset a shortage in the Upper Peninsula, where the gas is used to heat homes.

As result of Tuesday’s order, the governor has suspended limiting the number hours on motor carriers transporting fuel over the holiday weekend.

Under federal and state law, commercial truck drivers are not allowed to drive more than 14 hours after being off duty for 10 consecutive hours. Snyder’s order suspends those regulations for drivers of trucks transporting fuel for 14 days, but it does not waive any environmental rules or alter commercial arrangements.

Jamal Kheiry, a spokesman for the Marathon Petroleum Corp., which owns and operates the company’s Detroit refinery, confirmed the facility was going through an unplanned outage.

“There was a power interruption last week, and the refinery is currently undergoing maintenance,” he said via email. “Beyond that, we do not provide comment on our refining operations. I can say, however, that we are supplying our customers.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued a similar order on May 6 to prevent fuel shortages in that state after the shutdown of the West Shore pipeline, which is under inspection after an anomaly was reportedly detected.

Last week, AAA Michigan estimated Michigan will see its highest travel volume for Memorial Day weekend in nine years.

It projects close to 1.2 million Michiganians will travel 50 miles or more from home during the weekend — with more than a million driving to destinations and nearly 60,000 traveling by air. The total is also up nearly 2 percent from last year’s holiday weekend.

One reason so many will be taking road trips over the holiday weekend, AAA said, is the state is seeing the lowest gas prices in 11 years.

The insurance giant’s weekly fuel gauge report said a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline on Tuesday costs an average of $2.44, down from about $2.73 a year ago.

“Gas prices are on the rise across the Great Lakes region due to rising oil prices, increased demand for gas and the fires in Alberta, Canada, which have limited exports to the U.S.,” AAA Michigan spokeswoman Susan Hiltz said.

“It’s frustrating for everyone heading into one of the busiest driving holidays of the year, but we’ve got some extenuating factors that are coming into play here.”

On the bright side, she said, fuel shortages are not expected.

“Regional gasoline supplies remain relatively high,” Hiltz said. “And the other good news is that gas prices, while higher, are still significantly lower than last year and recent years.”, a Maryland-based website that tracks fuel prices, reports Michigan gas prices were at $2.53 a gallon Tuesday, 20 cents cheaper than last year.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy, said the Great Lakes region is being affected by a couple of issues.

One is oil prices have been on the rise, he said. Crude oil prices in the U.S. reached about $49 per barrel Tuesday.

Another is many refineries in the Great Lakes region, especially in Ohio, are still undergoing summer maintenance, DeHaan said.

“It’s not typical to see refineries doing maintenance heading into the month of June,” he said. “I think there’s some pent-up concern about supply going into the first major driving holiday.”

However, he also said the situation isn’t as dire as it was last August when a British Petroleum refinery in Indiana went through an unplanned outage. Gas prices in Michigan reached nearly $3 a gallon.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be the impact that motorists think,” DeHaan said. “But (the governor’s order) certainly can’t hurt.”

On Tuesday, after Snyder’s move, he also tweeted: “At this time, I do not see further #gasprice increases coming. Market is elevated but stable.”

Motorist Jim Moore, 70, of Royal Oak said Tuesday he’s the type of person who rarely looks at gas prices.

“But I’ve noticed they’ve been sneaking back up again,” he said. “I’m not a worrier, so I’m not worried about them, but I don’t like when they go up.”

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