Gas prices surging in SC, but hacked Colonial oil pipeline could be back online Friday

·5 min read

Update 3:22 p.m.: McClatchyDC reported that U.S. energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday that the Southeast is not yet affected by an actual gasoline shortage, just a “supply crunch.”

“Let me just be really clear: the crunch is in the areas that are affected by the pipeline, the main spurs of the pipeline,” Granholm said at a White House briefing.

Seventy percent of the supplies for these states have been impacted.

  • North Carolina

  • South Carolina

  • Tennessee

  • Georgia

  • Southern Virginia

“We know that we have gasoline, we just have to get it to the right places,” Granholm said. “That’s why these next couple of days will be challenging, and we want to encourage people – it’s not that we have a gasoline shortage, it’s that we have this supply crunch, and that things will be back to normal soon, and that we’re asking people not to hoard and know that we’re all over this.”

Original story: South Carolina gas prices could spike for the second time this year as the state begins to see the effects of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, gas experts report.

A cyberattack by a Russian criminal group, the FBI said, halted the pipeline’s operations May 7. The pipeline stretching from Houston, Texas through the Southeast to New Jersey serves 45% of the East Coast’s fuel. The company was already able to get some fuel flowing again on Monday and hopes to be more fully back online by Friday, May 14.

Gas prices have an risen average of 14 cents per gallon in both Myrtle Beach and Columbia in the past week, according to data from Gasbuddy, a firm that tracks gas prices around the country. Just since Sunday, prices have risen 8 cents and 5 cents in Myrtle Beach and Columbia, respectively.

AAA Carolinas travel company reports that across South Carolina, gas prices increased an average of 7 percent in the past week, with the average price per gallon currently at $2.67. That’s $1.10 more than the average price per gallon one year ago, AAA said Tuesday.

In North Carolina, gas prices rose 6 cents to $2.73 per gallon within the past week, according to AAA.

To help soothe price increases, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Tuesday that the state’s price gouging statute is now in effect. This enacts criminal penalties for “unconscionable prices during times of disaster,” particularly for essential goods like gas and food, Wilson’s office said in a statement.

“We must be wary of individuals looking to unfairly take advantage of the situation through price gouging,” Wilson said in a statement.

There is not a true gas shortage in South Carolina, Gasbuddy spokeswoman Allison Mac said in an email. However, rushing to the pump could cause spot shortages. This is already happening in Myrtle Beach.

A Shell station near the Ocean Lakes Campground outside of Surfside Beach and a Circle K in Carolina Forest both reported to Gasbuddy that they are completely out of fuel. Many people around the region have also reported long lines at gas stations, with some seeing 30-minute waits.

“It is really important for people not to panic and hoard gasoline. That would only make the situation worse,” Mac said in an email. “Given the disruption to the supply chain, it plays a role in fuel availability. However, Colonial Pipeline said Monday afternoon that parts of its system are being brought back online, and it hopes to restore service by the end of the week.”

Across South Carolina, 2% of gas stations are out of fuel, according to Gasbuddy

The fuel supply concerns come as Myrtle Beach is in the middle of its semiannual Bike Week. The gas-guzzling event draws thousands of bikers to town for 10 days of partying in the Grand Strand.

Gas prices have already been on the rise this year after an initial spike due to refinery shut downs across much of Texas during the February winter storm that blanketed the state in snow. Prices continued to rise in the weeks following. Motorists ventured farther from home as the nation’s recovery from COVID-19 and rising vaccinations made more people feel comfortable traveling.

News reports in recent weeks have warned of potential gas shortages this summer due to a lack of truck drivers to transport fuel to its final destination. However, that is not affecting the current fuel situation, Mac said in an email.

“This is isolated to the pipeline being down. Once it (is) back up, it will be okay. There is plenty of fuel,” she said in an email.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted Tuesday that South Carolina’s current state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic already allows access to additional measures needed to handle any potential fuel shortages.

“My office has been in constant contact with the Office of Regulatory Staff regarding the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline and we stand ready to take any additional action that may be necessary,” McMaster tweeted. “Because our state is currently under a state of emergency, transportation waivers and price gouging laws are in effect to facilitate fuel delivery and protect consumers.”

“There is no need to rush to top off your gas tanks or hoard gas - the pipeline is expected to resume operations by the end of the week,” he wrote.

A request for further comment from McMaster’s office was not immediately returned.

Gasbuddy analyst Patrick De Haan said in a statement that it is important to show “extreme restraint” right now when deciding to fuel up. If you don’t need to get gas, then don’t. If gas stations around the state begin completely running out of fuel, then it could be weeks before the state fully recovers. Combined with the rainy weather the state is seeing, right now might not be the time for that last-minute road trip to the beach.

“All eyes are now on the Colonial Pipeline and the fact a cyberattack has completely shut all lines, leading to what could become a major challenge for fuel delivery,” said De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. “I’m hopeful the situation will quickly improve as multiple levels of government are involved, this may become a nightmare should it continue just ahead of the start of the summer driving season.”