Colonial Pipeline has restarted, but this week’s panic buying means limited supplies

·3 min read

North Carolina continued to experience widespread gasoline shortages Friday, which experts and officials largely attributed to ongoing panic buying as well as high vehicle traffic in state.

As of 8 a.m., 69% of North Carolina’s gas stations did not have any supply, according to GasBuddy’s Patrick De Haan. By noon, that had dipped to 65%.

“We generally only saw small outage improvement overnight, highlighting the next choke point: too many stations need fuel, not enough capacity at the rack, not enough truck drivers. Reminder — don’t expect most areas to start a solid downward trend in outages until weekend or so,” De Haan wrote on Twitter.

De Haan said Friday that continued panic buying has slowed the recovery in supply, which could now take a few weeks to fully return to normal. But, he later added, demand across the country Thursday had fallen 7% from last Thursday, likely indicating that many people had already filled up their tanks.

While experts say most of the shortage is due to panic-buying, North Carolina’s gas stations have considerably less fuel than surrounding states, according to GasBuddy.

The percentages of gas stations short on fuel in Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina were 45%, 31% and 48%, respectively, as of noon Friday.

Tiffany Wright, public affairs director at American Automobile Association Carolinas, wrote in an email to The N&O that the short supply in North Carolina could partly be attributed to traffic in the state.

“The Carolinas are such a huge conduit for travelers,” Wright said. “Whether people are headed to the beach or mountains, we are a busy artery.”

In 2018, drivers collectively traveled over 121 billion miles in North Carolina, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina that mileage was 85 billion, 81 billion and 57 billion respectively.

Pipeline back in operation

Colonial Pipeline said Thursday afternoon that its entire pipeline system had restarted. The company said in a release that it would take “several days” for supply to return to normal and that some places could experience service interruptions until the supply chain had been restored.

Wright said that drivers, even though the pipeline is operational, should not rush to fill their cars up with gas unless it is necessary.

She said stations should be expected to be refilled within the next two days and that supply will be back to normal within a week.

During a public appearance Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper said, “We believe that with the increasing capacity that hopefully this weekend will be back to normal.”

Cooper added that he does not plan to limit how much gasoline a customer can buy.

The Colonial Pipeline makes up about 70% of North Carolina’s supply. This week’s event marks the third time in the last five years that a disruption along the pipeline has either caused shortages or spikes in gasoline prices.

The state’s five Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have called for mandatory cybersecurity measures to be included in any infrastructure package, and a group of North Carolina Republicans have called for a hearing on the incident that includes a list of other infrastructure vulnerable to such cyber attacks.

Cooper on Thursday addressed both the cybersecurity piece, as well as North Carolina’s reliance on the Colonial Pipeline.

“We do need to look at making sure that our infrastructure is better protected — both public and private entities — and long term, we need to look more at electric vehicles and not becoming so reliant on fossil fuels,” Cooper said. “So I look forward to working with federal authorities to strengthen our infrastructure. Fix this problem, but also help make us more resilient and protect us from the next one.”