The US energy secretary has urged Americans against “hoarding gasoline” amid shortages and long lines after hackers shut down a major pipeline.
More than 1,000 gas stations in the US south and east coast have reported running out of fuel, primarily because of what analysts say is unwarranted panic-buying among drivers.
The energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, and homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, provided updates at a White House briefing on fallout from the ransomware attack on the Colonial pipeline.
“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline,” Granholm told reporters.
The energy secretary emphasized that there should be no serious reason for concern about a gasoline shortage, particularly given that the pipeline is expected to be “substantially operational” by the end of this week.
Granholm said the long lines were the result of a “supply crunch” rather than a shortage, and that crunch is expected to most directly affect North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and southern Virginia.
The Colonial pipeline, the biggest fuel pipeline in the US, delivering about 45% of what is consumed on the east coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure.
Government officials acted swiftly to waive safety and environmental rules to speed the delivery of fuel by truck, ship or rail to motorists and airports, even as they sought to assure the public that there was no cause for alarm.
S&P’s Oil Price Information Service put the number of gas stations encountering shortages at more than 1,000.
“A lot of that is because they’re selling three or four times as much gasoline that they normally sell in a given day, because people do panic,” said Tom Kloza, an analyst with S&P. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The pipeline runs from the Texas Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan area. The states most dependent on the pipeline include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, Kloza said.
In Virginia, 7.7% of the state’s nearly 3,900 gas stations reported running out of fuel Tuesday, according to Gasbuddy.com, which tracks supply. In North Carolina, 8.5% of almost 5,400 stations were out, the company said.
There were scattered reports of higher gasoline prices, but prices were rising even before the pipeline incident heading into the busy summer driving season.
Nevertheless, Granholm warned gas station owners: “We will have no tolerance for price gouging.”
Scattered gas stations in metro Atlanta were out of fuel on Monday and Tuesday. In Georgia, nearly 6% of about 6,400 stations had run out of fuel, Gasbuddy.com said.
In Florida, drivers in some areas faced long lines, and 3% of gas stations had run out. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, declared a state of emergency on Tuesday to help cope with the shortages.
Dave Gussak drove from one station to the next in Tallahassee, Florida, in search of gas, seeing a line nearly a mile long at the pumps outside a Costco. He eventually passed a station with gas on the way to Florida State University, where he works.
“This is insane,” he said.
Irena Yanava’s tank was about half full, but she wasn’t about to take chances as she sat in her car at the same Tallahassee gas station.
“I know that I’ll be needing it soon, so why not?” she said.
The Colonial pipeline carries jet fuel as well. American Airlines rerouted two long-haul flights from Charlotte, North Carolina, because of possible shortages. Passengers flying to Honolulu will have to change planes in Dallas, and those heading to London will stop in Boston to refuel.
Southwest and United flights carried extra fuel on flights to Nashville, Tennessee, Baltimore and some other airports in case jet fuel was unavailable at those airports.
Normally airlines load only enough fuel for a single flight, because topping off adds to the plane’s weight and hurts mileage. Most planes can carry enough fuel for a round trip, but the extra fuel burn costs money.