By Edward McAllister
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As drivers in Sandy-battered New York sit steaming in long lines to buy gasoline, a small fuel terminal on a remote road in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood lies idle, gates padlocked - mute testimony to the root of the energy crisis now gripping the city.
Motiva's plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, like so many fuel-receiving stations that dot the shores of New Jersey and the boroughs of New York City, has been closed since the superstorm struck, unable to receive or deliver fuel that could ease the growing squeeze on gasoline supplies.
Restoring operations to terminals in the New York-New Jersey region, which hold about 75 million barrels of oil storage capacity, will be vital to normalizing fuel supplies to the nation's largest city. These outlets provide a crucial link in the city's gasoline supply chain, storing fuel brought in by barges before it is trucked to gas stations.
At the Motiva station - without power and with its offices flooded - the few workers on duty on Thursday were left scratching their heads about when it might be possible to receive fuel and ship it to desperate customers.
"We will not know how bad it is until the power is back on, and we don't know when that will be," said one worker, who asked not to be named.
These facilities are more important than ever as local fuel production declines. The Northeast, which had a string of refinery closures over the past year, is becoming more reliant on shipments to terminals and on pipelines bringing crude from other parts of the country.
Sandy has temporarily shut down the Colonial Pipeline, the key artery that carries gasoline and diesel to the East Coast from the refining facilities on the Gulf Coast.
While most of the region's refineries are slowly returning to normal, one, Phillips 66's Bayway refinery in New Jersey - nicknamed "The Gasoline Machine" - remains shut after losing power and getting hit by flooding.
The biggest facility, IMTT in Bayonne with 16 million barrels of capacity, was still without power, a worker there said. Power provider PSE&G has not said when service might be restored.
On a normal day, Motiva, near a small canal that separates Greenpoint from Long Island City, Queens, would have dozens of trucks filling up at its eight loading bays. On Thursday, its lot was empty.
A spokesperson for Motiva, a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco, was unavailable for comment.
The terminal has 18 tanks with the capacity to store about 55,000 barrels of fuel, according documents filed with the New York State Department of Energy Conservation in September. It can push just under 527 million gallons of gasoline, or 34,000 barrels, through its system each day.
But for now, like dozens of other terminals around the New York Harbor, it remains unable to receive or deliver.
"We're just waiting on Con Ed," said a contractor working on the terminal, pointing through a chain link fence to a quiet Con Ed plant next door.
And as the shortage begins to bite and increasingly irritated drivers inch their way into gas stations across New York and New Jersey, the wait goes on.
(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Writing by Edward McAllister and Matthew Robinson; Editing by Ciro Scotti)