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Gas Stations Report Shortages As Pipeline Shutdown Drags On

Gasoline Line
Jennifer Lang
A line of cars waiting for gasoline stretches into the street Tuesday in Hemby Bridge, southeast of Charlotte.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency and is temporarily suspending fuel regulations to make sure there’s enough gas in the state. That comes more than 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast reported running out of fuel, primarily because of what analysts say is unwarranted panic-buying among drivers, as the shutdown of a major pipeline by a gang of hackers entered its fifth day Tuesday.

The Colonial Pipeline, the biggest fuel pipeline in the U.S., delivering about 45% of what is consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

A large part of the pipeline resumed operations manually late Monday, and Colonial anticipates restarting most of its operations by the end of the week, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.

Motorists may still feel a crunch because it takes a few days to ramp up operations, but she said there is no reason to hoard gasoline.

“We know that we have gasoline; we just have to get it to the right places,” she said.

AAA says the average price for a gallon of gas has jumped in North Carolina by 3-10 cents since the weekend, with the average price per gallon now at $2.73. That’s when a cyberattack shut down most of the Colonial Pipeline. GasBuddy reported Tuesday that nearly 6% of gas stations in the state didn’t have gas.

AAA spokesperson Tiffany Wright says panic-buying is a big factor in rising prices and shortages.

"People are lining up at gas stations, they’re topping off when they don’t need to, they’re filling up their entire family fleet of vehicles, they’re bringing gas cans," she said. "And all of this is leading to the shortages we’re seeing sporadically throughout the Carolinas, and that’s unfortunate."

Gasoline Shortage
Jennifer Lang
This sign at a Stallings gas pump Tuesday told the tale of many gas stations in the state -- they were out of gasoline.

S&P’s Oil Price Information Service put the number of gas stations encountering shortages at more than 1,000.

“A lot of that is because they’re selling three or four times as much gasoline that they normally sell in a given day, because people do panic,” said Tom Kloza, an analyst with S&P. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The pipeline runs from the Texas Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan area. The states most dependent on the pipeline include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, Kloza said.

In Virginia, 7.7% of the state’s nearly 3,900 gas stations reported running out of fuel Tuesday, according to Gasbuddy.com, which tracks supply. In North Carolina, 8.5% of almost 5,400 stations were out, the company said.

That has led both North and South Carolina's top prosecutors to enact measures criminalizing price gouging following the shutdown of a pipeline that carries fuel to much of the states.

On Tuesday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein reminded that the state's price gouging law goes into effect when the governor declares a state of emergency. Anyone can report potential price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint at https://ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/price-gouging/

Meanwhile, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that he had declared an “abnormal disruption” in the fuel market following the hacking of the Colonial Pipeline, allowing him to put the state's price gouging statute in effect.

In such a circumstance, anyone found to be renting or selling a commodity at “an unconscionable price” could be charged with price gouging.

According to state law, those found guilty of price gouging can face a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail.

Anyone who suspects price gouging can contact Wilson's office or email pricegouging@scag.gov.

To ease brief shortages, the White House is considering temporarily waiving a law that says ships delivering products between U.S. ports must be built and manned by Americans.

Gas Shortage
David Boraks
The Harris Teeter Fuel Center in Davidson had gasoline -- and a long line of cars waiting to get some.

The Transportation Department also is relaxing some workforce requirements and enlisting railroads to deliver fuel inland. And the Environmental Protection Agency lifted some fuel quality requirements on an emergency basis.

“We’re looking at every option we have across the federal government and all of the federal agencies,” Granholm said.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp suspended state taxes on motor fuels through Saturday. Georgia collects a gasoline tax of 28.7 cents per gallon and a diesel tax of 32.2 cents per gallon.

“It will probably help level the price at the pump off for a little while,” Kemp said.

However, he urged people not to hoard gasoline, saying he expects the situation to be resolved soon.

“You don’t need to go out and fill up every 5-gallon can you’ve got,” the governor said.

Scattered gas stations in metro Atlanta were out of fuel Monday and Tuesday. In Georgia, nearly 6% of about 6,400 stations had run out of fuel, Gasbuddy.com said.

In Florida, drivers in some areas faced long lines, and 3% of gas stations had run out.

Dave Gussak drove from one station to the next in Tallahassee, Florida, in search of gas, seeing a line nearly a mile long at the pumps outside a Costco. He eventually passed a station with gas on the way to Florida State University where he works.

“This is insane,” he said.

Irena Yanava’s tank was about half full, but she wasn’t about to take chances as she sat in her car at the same Tallahassee gas station.

"I know that I’ll be needing it soon, so why not?” she said.

Citgo's Fairfax, Virginia, terminal ran out of premium reformulated gasoline, and its Richmond, Virginia, terminal was out of unleaded regular, according to the American Automobile Association, citing a shipper bulletin,

The Colonial Pipeline carries jet fuel as well. American Airlines rerouted two long-haul flights from Charlotte, North Carolina, because of possible shortages. Passengers flying to Honolulu will have to change planes in Dallas, and those heading to London will stop in Boston to refuel.

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