BILLINGS (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday declared an energy emergency that lifts work time restrictions on truck drivers in eastern Montana, where disrupted fuel supplies have caused hours-long waits at pipeline terminals ahead of a winter storm forecast for this weekend.
The executive order comes after a recent mudslide shut down a CHS Inc. refined fuels pipeline serving eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
The closure of that line for repairs put a further strain on fuel supplies already taxed by high demand from the fall harvest and recent weather conditions.
The governor's order lifts hours-of-service restrictions on fuel truck drivers so they do not use up their hours waiting in line. Those rules otherwise limit drivers to 11 hours of driving and 14 hours on call, said Lary Poulton of the Western Petroleum Marketers Association in Malta.
The order expires Nov. 14. Bullock spokeswoman Ivie English said it will help prevent fuel shortages as forecasters call for winter weather to move into the state as early as Sunday.
CHS is trucking in fuel to try to keep up with demand, a spokeswoman said.
Dave Galt of the Montana Petroleum Association said the industry group worked with the governor's office on the order so that a crisis did not develop.
"We were concerned about the bad weather coming. I appreciate everybody's quick response," Galt said.
The CHS pipeline runs from the company's refinery in Laurel, Mont., to Fargo, N.D. It was shut down after shifting due to the mudslide to make sure it can continue to operate safely, CHS spokeswoman Lani Jordan said.
It was unclear when it could be running again. The governor's office estimated that it could be down for about a week, but Jordan was unable to immediately verify that timetable.
The mudslide occurred in western North Dakota, and Poulton said it will force distributors that typically pick up fuel in Minot, N.D., to travel to the next closest pipeline terminal in Glendive, Mont.
Even before the pipeline problem, Poulton said fuel truck drivers had been sitting in lines for several hours. That's been due to heightened demand driven by increased activity in the Bakken oil patch and the fuel needs of the agriculture industry as farmers harvest their fall crops.
"The lines are going to be way worse than they have been, but they've been bad all summer," Poulton said of how the pipeline shutdown will impact fuel deliveries.
He said lifting the restriction on service hours gives drivers the option to rest while they wait in line rather than shutting down after picking up just one load.