Beaufort County residents are anxiously filling up their tanks amid reports of gasoline shortages, but the main drain on gasoline appears to be panic-buying.
One of the country’s largest pipelines that supplies gasoline to states along the East Coast was hit by a ransomware attack on Saturday, causing the shortfall. A BP on Lagoon Road in Hilton Head and two Circle K gas stations and a Shell station on William Hilton Parkway all ran out of gas, according to GasBuddy, an app that allows users to track gasoline pump shortages and monitor prices.
GasBuddy indicates that prices per gallon in were an average of 25 cents lower in South Carolina a month ago. Christopher Cardwell, manager of an Enmarket gas station off S.C. 170, said gas prices have gone up from $2.65 to $2.80 in the past three days. GasBuddy said the average price of gasoline in the U.S. has hit $3 per gallon for the first time since 2014, McClatchy newspapers reported.
Despite the shortages, the Town of Bluffton cautioned residents that there’s no need to panic. On its official Facebook page, the town said few stations have reported being low on, or out of, fuel, and that many stations have full tanks.
Colonial Pipeline said in a press release Wednesday that it was restarting operations but added it “will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”
“Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period,” the company said. “Colonial will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.”
Drivers delivering gasoline to stations across the East Coast will be temporarily exempt from weight restrictions, the company said Tuesday. This leniency is to ensure that the delivery of gasoline, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products to states along the East Coast is not disrupted, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In the meantime, drivers all over the East Coast are struggling to find a place to fill up. Across South Carolina, 45% of gas stations were reported to be out of fuel Wednesday. In North Carolina, 65% of gas stations were reporting empty tanks.
And Beaufort drivers are continuing to run into problems. Some Facebook users reported not having access to Premium and Plus gasoline, while others said stations have limited purchases to combat the shortage. Gas station workers say the biggest problem is people panic-buying.
Panic-buying results in shortages
Cardwell said the main reason for the shortage where he works isn’t from the ransomware.
“It’s off and on and has something to do with people coming in and buying in bulk,” Cardwell said.
Alex Allen, a lead cashier at an Exxon on Discovery Drive in Bluffton, said the same thing happened at his gas station. He didn’t think the shortage would be so bad, but on Tuesday he saw customers panic-buying.
“It was awful,” Allen said. “People were coming in nonstop from opening to 8 p.m.”
Allen said an employee had to call Bluffton police to clear out the station’s parking lot because too many cars were waiting to fill up.
Customers flocked to the gas station in a frenzy, he said. “Last night we basically ran out.”
Capt. Scott Chandler of the Bluffton Police Department said police began monitoring gas stations as a safety precaution when they noticed the increased customer presence.
Felix Turner, corporate affairs manager at Kroger, said there’s plenty of gas available, and customers aren’t limited in their purchases. He encourages customers not to panic.
“There have been some supply disruptions, and spot outages may occur,” Turner said. “This has caused some customer anxiety, which has led to some additional wait times at locations. ...
“We are doing our best to maintain supplies where we can,” he said, “and look forward to a return to normal as soon as possible.”