TOPEKA - Due to a situation caused in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has issued an order to assist in a fuel supply circumstance being described as "extreme and unusual" by the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the KDA, the situation caused by Harvey could prevent the distribution of an adequate supply of gasoline to consumers in several states, including Kansas.

Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey signed an order on Sept. 1, that will assist in alleviating the anticipated shortage in fuel supplies throughout the region. The order will relax the enforcement of fuel standards related to the sale and distribution of gasoline during the transition period between summer and winter fuel this month. Gasoline meeting the EPA fuel standards of the order are permitted for immediate distribution in Kansas through Sept. 30.

As some folks may be unaware, gasoline sold during the summer is actually different, and more expensive to produce, than that sold in the winter. The difference between summer and winter blend gasoline involves the reid vapor pressure of the fuel. RVP is a measure of how easily the fuel evaporates at a given temperature. The more volatile a gasoline (higher RVP), the easier it evaporates.

According to the American Automobile Association, winter-blend fuel has a higher RVP because the fuel must be able to evaporate at low temperatures for the engine to operate properly, especially when the engine is cold. If the RVP is too low on a frigid day, the vehicle will be hard to start and once started, will run rough.

Summer-blend gasoline has a lower RVP to prevent excessive evaporation when outside temperatures rise. Reducing the volatility of summer gas decreases emissions that can contribute to unhealthy ozone and smog levels. A lower RVP also helps prevent drivability problems such as vapor lock on hot days, especially in older vehicles.

The EPA says conventional summer-blend gasoline contains 1.7 percent more energy than winter-blend gas, which is one reason why gas mileage is slightly better in the summer. The order issued by KDA will allow the cheaper to produce gasoline to be produced earlier than usual this year.

Harvey's impact at the pumps

With more than 50 inches of rain, Harvey set a record for the greatest amount of single-storm rainfall for the continental U.S. The storm’s impact on the Gulf Coast is unprecedented, and continues to drive up gas prices across the country. The average gas price in Kansas rose to $2.49/gallon, up 26 cents from a week ago.

"While some markets in Kansas are well above the statewide average, Kansas ranks seventh lowest in the country in pump prices," said AAA Kansas’ spokesperson Jennifer Haugh. "The state’s average per-gallon price is 16 cents less than the national average."

The Department of Energy (DOE) has reported that eight Gulf Coast refineries are in the process of restarting, which accounts for about 10 percent of Gulf Coast refining capabilities. At its peak, Harvey shuttered 27 percent of U.S. processing capacity. No refineries have returned to normal rates, but at least four are operating at reduced rates. Meanwhile, pipelines forced to take pre-cautionary shut downs caused by Harvey either have resumed operations or are in the process of coming back online. This includes the Colonial Pipeline, which currently has only suspended the Texas operations, while the remainder of the system continues to operate with available supply.

In response to refineries and pipeline shutdowns, last week the DOE authorized the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to negotiate and execute emergency exchange agreements authorizing 5.6 million barrels of crude oil to be released. In addition, DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued waivers to Colonial to accept more product into its pipeline.