Colonial Pipeline has restarted its pipeline system and officials said people should expect a return to normal in “several days.”
As of Sunday morning, Gas Buddy estimated 59 percent of North Carolina gas stations were out of fuel. That was a 5 percent decrease since Saturday night.
State officials continue to discourage panic buying. They say people rushing out to fill up all their vehicles and topping off their tanks despite not really needing it was a major reason for all the gas station outages in the first place.
GasBuddy says data shows “the epicenter of restoration efforts appears to be North Carolina at the present time.”
AAA said North Carolina will start to see more relief in the coming days. The organization said gas prices will likely continue to climb heading into Memorial Day weekend.
In the name of conserving fuel, four area school districts made Friday a remote only learning day.
Wake County Public School System, Durham Public Schools, Franklin County Schools, and Vance County Schools informed all students that they should not come into the classroom Friday, but instead stay home and attend classes virtually.
Where it can be found, gas has slightly increased in price. The national average for gas is above $3, but in North Carolina it is $2.93.
The average in Raleigh is currently $$2.95. Durham’s average price sits at $2.94, and Fayetteville’s average is $2.91.
“Now that Colonial has restarted pipeline operations, we will see a gradually increasing return to normal conditions that will take several days,” Governor Roy Cooper said Thursday in a news release. “There is available fuel supply in and around our state, and it will take time for tankers to move that supply to the stations that are experiencing shortages.”
President Joe Biden, speaking from the White House on Thursday, urged Americans: “Don’t panic.” But he acknowledged it would take into next week for the situation to return to normal.
“I want to be clear,” he said. “We will not feel the effects at the pump immediately. This is not like flicking on a light switch. This pipeline is 5,500 miles long. It had never been fully shut down its entire history, and so — so fully. And we have to — now they have to safely and fully return to normal operations.”
It will take “several days” for things to return to normal, and some areas may experience “intermittent service interruptions during this start-up period,” the company said.
Why is North Carolina being hit so hard?
There is no gasoline shortage in the U.S., according to government officials and energy analysts.
However, the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack exposed a critical vulnerability in how both crude oil and refined petroleum makes its way across the country and to gas stations.
Refineries are what turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, propane and any other number of products. They are spread across the country, but some of the largest are in Houston and New Orleans. That’s where the Colonial Pipeline comes in — transporting that gasoline directly to dozens of giant tanks across the southeast. These tanks or terminals then fill up smaller fuel trucks that haul up to 8,000 gallons of fuel to local stations.
All of the North Carolina terminals are basically running on empty because the pipeline was shut down. Still, the main well has not run dry. There is plenty of gasoline at the refineries but the challenge is how to get it to North Carolina.
In the meantime, trucks, trains and even barges are hauling gasoline. But, at the Wilmington port, there is only room for two barges, and there’s a significant wait time there for fuel trucks to fill up. Then there’s the added drive time.
The distribution problems, compounded with the panic-buying, have been draining supplies at thousands of gas stations in the Southeast.
Drivers found gas pumps shrouded in plastic bags at tapped-out service stations across more than a dozen U.S. states Thursday.
About 70% of North Carolina’s gas stations were still without fuel amid panic-buying and about half the stations in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia were tapped out, GasBuddy.com reported. Washington, D.C., was among the hardest-hit locations, with 73% of stations out, the site’s tracking service showed.
The governors of both Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency to help ensure access to gasoline. Other governors urged people not to hoard supplies.
Cooper reiterated calls for residents not to make any unnecessary trips to the pump.
The search for working gas pumps has frayed the nerves of some drivers. Two people were charged with assault after spitting in each other’s faces over spots in a line at a Marathon station in Knightdale, North Carolina, on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
The shutdown even affected hikers long the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. They depend on cars and vans to access the trail and get supplies.
“Everybody’s out here buying from the same gas pumps, so the lines are long, some are out – you’ve really got to look for it,” said Ron Brown, who operates Ron’s Appalachian Trail Shuttles.
In Georgia, racetracks and other entertainment venues rely on many fans who drive from surrounding states such as Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, and the concern is that higher gas prices – or shortages – might keep fans at home.
“Fuel prices do affect the amount of people who come, especially long distances,” said Sydney Marshall, general manager of the South Georgia Motorsports Park in Adel, Georgia, and the Orlando Speed World Dragway in Florida. “It’s definitely a concern of mine because if there’s a gas shortage, people aren’t going to be able to get here.”
The Associated Press contributed.
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