Saturday, January 22, 2022

Stations run out of fuel, consumers congest roadways from panic-buying after Colonial Pipeline shutdown

The Circle K on Gordon Road was wrapped in caution tape after running out of fuel on Tuesday in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

SOUTHEASTERN NC — Lines have populated the city’s gas stations all morning with folks fueling up in the wake of Colonial Pipeline shutting down its main line and operating only one after last week’s cyber attack. Colonial Pipeline provides 45% of the East Coast’s fuel from Texas to New York and is the main supplier in North Carolina.

River Road, near the port, was especially congested with tanker trucks awaiting to refuel. Lines formed down Eastwood Road near Racine Drive, on Market Street at Forest Hills near downtown, and along Gordon Road and Amsterdam Way. By 11 a.m. numerous stations were out of fuel from panic-buying.

“I must’ve gone to at least six stations and three of them were completely out,” Glenn Rosenbloom said.

Having no luck at the Exxon in Castle Hayne and the Scotchman on 23rd Street, Rosenbloom landed at the Shell on Market Street by New Hanover High School. He said he waited for 20 minutes as cars paraded along Market Street.

“Of all the places that I saw that had gas, that one was the shortest line,” he said.

A representative from the Scotchman on 23rd Street told Port City Daily she is unsure when fuel will be replenished at the station.

It’s a scene too many southeastern North Carolinians can relate to — living in hurricane alley. Only this time it’s less a threat from nature and more from a ransomware attack, according to the FBI. The Eastern European hacker group, DarkSide, waged the cyber attack on Colonial on May 7. The feds have been working with Colonial since the company suspended the pipeline’s operations four days ago over the data breach.

“Colonial Pipeline is continuing to work in partnership with third-party cybersecurity experts, law enforcement, and other federal agencies to restore pipeline operations quickly and safely,” the company stated in a release.

According to the New York Times, the feds also issued an emergency alert for electric utilities, gas suppliers and other pipeline operators, for fear hackers can use the same code elsewhere. So far, the feds suspect it’s only been targeted toward Colonial for ransom.

In the wake of shutting down the pipeline, AAA reported yesterday that panic-buying is unnecessary as fuel could be supplemented appropriately from other U.S. pipelines, and with the help of the U.S. Department of Transportation extending operational hours for tanker trucks carrying the fuel. However, the residual effects still could be felt, even after Colonial is operating again.

For one, AAA is predicting the pipeline shutdown could increase gas prices. In one week only, fuel has risen by 6 cents. In Wilmington, regular gasoline averages $2.80 a gallon as compared to a year ago at the height of the pandemic, when it was at $1.76.

AAA’s gas prices in Wilmington, NC, as of May 11, 2021. The Colonial Pipeline shutdown could cause even more of an increase, according to AAA. (Port City Daily/Courtesy AAA)

“If the trend continues, an increase of three more cents would make the national average the most expensive since November 2014 — the last time we saw average prices at $2.99 and higher,” AAA reported yesterday.

AAA also noted it takes upward of two weeks or so to get fuel flowing again through the pipeline once Colonial resumes normal operations.

Colonial released in a statement that, though its main line is down, it is manually operating Line 4, which runs from Greensboro, North Carolina, through Woodbine, Maryland. The shutoff of other lateral lines caused President Biden to issue a state of emergency nationwide on Sunday, May 9.

Gov. Cooper followed suit in North Carolina on Monday afternoon by lifting fuel regulations.

“Today’s emergency declaration will help North Carolina prepare for any potential motor vehicle fuel supply interruptions across the state and ensure motorists are able to have access to fuel,” Cooper wrote in a release.

Colonial Pipeline revealed it expects to be up and running again by the end of the week.

“We continue to evaluate product inventory in storage tanks at our facilities and others along our system and are working with our shippers to move this product to terminals for local delivery,” Colonial noted in a release.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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