State officials have dusted off emergency plans and are prepared to limit purchases of gasoline, invoke mandatory set-asides of fuel for schools and hospitals, and take other steps in the event war in the Persian Gulf creates oil shortages here.
"We're well prepared for shortages if they should occur," said Gerald L. Thorpe, energy coordinator for Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The Governor's Energy Emergency Crisis Management Team was scheduled to meet today in Baltimore to discuss the potential of shortages from a Persian Gulf shooting war.
The group has held training sessions over the past eight weeks to prepare state workers in the event that Schaefer has to invoke emergency powers. The last time a governor did that was during the 1974 energy crisis.
The governor has the authority under Maryland law to do several things: limit gasoline purchases to odd days for motorists with odd-numbered license plates and even days for those with even-numbered plates; require minimum purchases of gasoline to reduce panic "topping off" of tanks; and invoke a mandatory set-aside program.
Under the set-aside program, retailers and wholesalers of fuel oil, gasoline and other petroleum-based fuels can be required to set aside a percentage of their stocks for allocation by the state. The state would then make the fuel available for schools, hospitals, ambulance services, police departments and other critical users, Thorpe said.
A system of regional allocation has been established so that police in Baltimore, for example, would be sent to one distributor for fuel and police and other groups in Garrett County would go to another distributor there, Thorpe said.
Maryland officials have also been in contact with other states in the region and the U.S. energy department to make plans for keeping supplies moving. Energy Department officials indicated at a meeting this week that they will recommend that President Bush release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves if shortages occur, Thorpe said.
"We have plenty of supply. Our stocks are higher than they have been for a long while," Thorpe said. The state does not have strategic reserves like the federal government's stockpiles, but it does keep track of the fuel stored in private tank farms and wholesalers' facilities, he said.
"Prices are going to fluctuate because psychology tends to drive the spot market," he said. "There's not much we can do about prices."
Thorpe said it is unlikely emergency measures will have to be invoked because only about a quarter of the United State's energy supplies comes from the Persian Gulf. But if war erupts, it could spill over to other energy-producing nations in the form of sabotage or other hostilities, he said.