Panic buying causes long lines, rising prices at gas stations across the Outer Banks

There were lines and gas shortages Monday morning at gas stations along the Outer Banks. [Sam Walker photo]

There were long lines and rising prices at gas stations around the Outer Banks and eastern North Carolina this morning as panic set in over the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies much of the fuel for the East Coast.

Many stations on the Outer Banks were reporting they’ve run out and others are limiting how much you can purchase at one time.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday declared a state of emergency to suspend vehicle fuel regulations to ensure adequate fuel supply supplies throughout the state” as prices jumped to nearly $3 per gallon.

AAA forecasts gas prices to keep climbing this week in reaction to last weekend’s cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New York Harbor and supplies about 45 percent of the motor fuel used on the East Coast.

“At this time, some lateral lines have reopened, but there is no word of when the mainline, including the gasoline line, will be operational,” AAA said in a news release. Colonial Pipeline officials have said they expect to be fully operational by the end of the week.

Nationally, average prices jumped to $2.98 on Tuesday morning, with prices along the Outer Banks averaging about $2.79.

AAA said if the trend continues, the national average will be the most expensive since November 2014, the last time we saw average prices at $2.99 and higher.

“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally. Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases … ,” said Jeanette McGee, AAA spokesperson. “These states may see prices increase three to seven cents this week.”

Colonial Pipeline says it is working with cybersecurity experts and federal agencies to get its supply line back up and running. The company said in a statement that one of its lines, Line 4, from Greensboro, North Carolina to Woodbine, Maryland is operating under manual control for a “limited period of time” while existing inventory is available.

Industry analyst Patrick De Haan with the price-tracking company Gas Buddy says while the pipe itself is operational, the computer network that supports it has been taken offline.

“There’s gasoline in the pipeline but it’s not moving. The computers that control the pipeline have been shut down proactively from my understanding,” he said. “Motorists are in some cases making the situation worse by panicking and hoarding gasoline.”

In response the pipeline ransomware attack, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan on Tuesday issued an emergency fuel waiver to help alleviate fuel shortages in states whose supply of reformulated gasoline has been impacted by the pipeline shutdown.

EPA has waived the federal Reid vapor pressure requirements for fuel sold in Reformulated Gasoline areas of Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to facilitate the supply of gasoline. The waiver will continue through May 18.

AAA also urges against panic-buying and offers some tips to conserve fuel:

  • Plan ahead to accomplish multiple errands in one trip, and whenever possible avoid high-traffic times of day.
  • If you own more than one car, use the most fuel-efficient model that meets the needs of any given journey.
  • Remove unnecessary and bulky items from your car. Minimize your use of roof racks and remove special carriers when not in use. It takes more fuel to accelerate a heavier car, and the reduction in fuel economy is greater for small cars than for larger models.
  • Minimize your use of air conditioning. Even at highway speeds, open windows have less effect on fuel economy than the engine power required to operate the air conditioning compressor.
  • In hot weather, park in the shade or use a windshield sunscreen to lessen heat buildup inside the car. This reduces the need for air conditioning (and thus fuel) to cool down the car.