Long lines growing at NC gas stations as Colonial Pipeline hack spurs ‘panic buying’

·7 min read

Gas panic has taken hold in parts of North Carolina, with long lines at gas stations as motorists are jittery over news a major pipeline is temporarily shut down.

The “panic buying” was clear across the state on Tuesday, from the mountains of Asheville to the beaches of the Outer Banks and many places in-between. Bags on pumps were a common sight in the Triangle as some gas stations ran out of fuel or had only diesel left to offer.

“I don’t know when (more gas) is coming. Nobody else has any,” Glenda Wendt said as she waited in line for gas Tuesday at a Duplin County convenience store. “It is not a must, but I’d rather get it while there is some than none at all.“

Also in Duplin County, the line for gas was 20 cars deep early Tuesday at the Speedy Mart. Ron Ezzell couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“This is crazy, isn’t it?” he said.

GasBuddy.com, which reports on gas availability, says 16% of stations in North Carolina are without gas. In South Carolina, it’s just over 8%, the site reports.

Colonial Pipeline, a major fuel supplier, was the victim of a cyberattack over the weekend, prompting the company to temporarily halt operations. A cybercrime group called DarkSide was behind the attack, the FBI said.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Monday that suspended “motor vehicle fuel regulations to ensure adequate fuel supplies throughout the state.” On Tuesday, he urged consumers to report price gouging and to resist rushing “to top off your tanks.”

Cars spill onto S. Saunders Street waiting for gas at the Exxon station in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday afternoon, May 11, 2021.
Cars spill onto S. Saunders Street waiting for gas at the Exxon station in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday afternoon, May 11, 2021.

State Attorney General Josh Stein also asked motorists to resist the temptation to “hoard” gas, after photos circulated on social media of a couple filling the back of an SUV with containers of gas.

“Please do NOT hoard,” Stein said in a tweet. “Let’s not have a run on gas like we did on toilet paper last year. Only buy gas or take a trip if you have to. Otherwise, just wait.”

Economists also say rushing out to the pumps could make things worse. They say there is no fuel shortage, and the Colonial shutdown would need to continue for several days for consumers to feel effects.

“I would not expect this to last long enough to make fuel pricing or supply an issue,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said on Twitter over the weekend.

Tiffany Wright, spokesperson for AAA Carolinas, told The Asheville Citizen-Times any shortages at gas stations are a result of people rushing to buy gas, not the shutdown itself.

“It’s still early, but what I will say is that we do have ample supply even though the Colonial Pipeline is responsible for 45% of the fuel going to the East Coast,” she said.

Customers line up for fuel at the at the Valero on Western Blvd. on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 in Tarboro, N.C. Several surrounding stations were without fuel on Tuesday morning, forcing customers to wait in line for about 15 minutes to fill their tanks due to the closure of the Colonial Pipeline by a cyberattack.
Customers line up for fuel at the at the Valero on Western Blvd. on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 in Tarboro, N.C. Several surrounding stations were without fuel on Tuesday morning, forcing customers to wait in line for about 15 minutes to fill their tanks due to the closure of the Colonial Pipeline by a cyberattack.

Experts disagree on whether gas prices will rise. AAA warned the region will likely have to pay more, but others say prices will likely remain stable unless the shutdown drags on.

Andy Lipow, an oil analyst, told The Associated Press that if operations are stalled for five or six days, it could cause shortages and price increases — mostly between central Alabama and Washington, D.C.

Colonial Pipeline says it hopes to “substantially” restore the flow of gas late in the week.

“While this situation remains fluid and continues to evolve, the Colonial operations team is executing a plan that involves an incremental process that will facilitate a return to service in a phased approach,” the company said. “This plan is based on a number of factors with safety and compliance driving our operational decisions.”

In North Carolina, some people described the long lines at gas stations as “a manufactured panic.” Some likened it to the toilet paper panic that gripped the nation early on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Knightdale, plastic bags could be seen on pumps at several gas stations along Knightdale Boulevard — Whalen’s, Sheetz and an Exxon, indicating that gas had run out. The scene was replicated at gas stations in Chapel Hill and Durham, where in some cases, only premium gas was left.

Drivers reported driving from one station to the next, somewhat futilely, as they sought gas — any gas — to fill up their cars.

Glenda Wendt sits in her vehicle waiting in a long line to get gas at the Short Stop in Beulaville, N.C., Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Wendt said getting gas ëis not a must but I rather get it while there is some than (getting) none at all.î
Glenda Wendt sits in her vehicle waiting in a long line to get gas at the Short Stop in Beulaville, N.C., Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Wendt said getting gas ëis not a must but I rather get it while there is some than (getting) none at all.î

Still, many drivers said they’d rather be safe than sorry when it comes to filling up their tanks.

“How temporary is temporary?” Marky Prevatte wrote on Facebook.

“What’s truly strange is that people are surprised that other people went and got gas…in the same state where people buy out every single food item they can when there’s a half an inch of snow on the ground,” one woman posted on Facebook. “If you’ve lived here longer than a day….you shouldn’t really be surprised.”

Onslow County on the coast was among the first local governments to take action, announcing Tuesday it would limit non-essential travel by government vehicles.

The “fuel conservation program” is being implemented because some gas stations are reporting shortages, officials said in a Facebook post.

On the Outer Banks, some gas stations began limiting fuel purchases, OBX Today reported.

GasBuddy.com announced Monday that it launched a “fuel availability tracker” to help people find gas.

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Colonial has said a third-party cybersecurity firm is investigating the attack and that it has contacted law enforcement and federal agencies

Eric Goldstein, executive assistant director of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, said in a statement that the agency is “engaged with the company and our interagency partners regarding the situation.”

On Sunday, The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a regional emergency declaration for 17 states along the East Coast and Washington, D.C., to support “relief efforts related to the shortages of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products” in response to the shutdown. The declaration creates more flexibility for carriers and drivers, including an exemption from hours of service restrictions for those transporting fuel to the included areas.

President Joe Biden is being “regularly briefed” on the shutdown, and his administration is “continually assessing the impact,” the White House said Monday.

“We are monitoring supply shortages in parts of the Southeast and are evaluating every action the Administration can take to mitigate the impact as much as possible,” the White House said. “The President has directed agencies across the Federal Government to bring their resources to bear to help alleviate shortages where they may occur.”

Staff writer Jonas Pope IV contributed to this report.

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