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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Pipeline Shutdown Has East Coast Drivers Making a Run on Gas

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Drivers along parts of the East Coast piled into gas stations on Tuesday, resulting in long lines and shortages as motorists reacted to what could be a weeklong shutdown of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline because of a cyberattack.

Colonial Pipeline Co., operator of a 5,500-mile conduit for gasoline, diesel and refined products, said Monday it hoped to substantially restore service by the end of the week. It shut the pipeline late last week after a ransomware attack that U.S. officials have linked to a criminal gang known as DarkSide.

The Colonial pipeline runs from Texas to New Jersey and carries about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to the company’s website. The shutdown is particularly worrisome for Southeastern states, including North and South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia; they have fewer sources of fuel than do states farther up the Atlantic Coast.

In the Raleigh, N.C., area on Tuesday, cars were lined up 30 deep to access a dozen pumps at a

BJ’s Wholesale Club.

Lines also formed at a Sheetz convenience store near Raleigh-Durham International Airport, one of the rare stations around that still had fuel.

Shortages in the area were also afflicting gas-station owners like Mike Whalen, whose family owns three locations that were out of fuel on Tuesday. The vice president of finance for Whalen Corp. said he doesn’t have alternative ways of getting gas or any sense for when his supply might be replenished. Plunging gasoline sales also mean fewer customers in the stations’ stores buying drinks and snacks.

“Am I losing money? Hell yeah I’m losing money,” he said.

Gasoline demand Monday across the U.S. was up about 20% from a week earlier, according to data collected by price and fuel tracker GasBuddy. Across five Southeastern states—Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia—demand for gasoline jumped 40%, the figures showed.

Roughly 240 gas stations across Georgia, or about 5% of the state’s total, had run out of fuel by Tuesday afternoon, according to GasBuddy, which compiles the data when drivers report such outages. In Virginia and North Carolina, that figure was about 7.5%.

“We’re seeing a gas run,” said

Patrick De Haan,

GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis. “Now we’re going to see more dramatic [effects] as people run to the stations and run them dry.”

Truck-stop operator Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores is “experiencing low levels of diesel and gasoline intermittently” at locations in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, a spokeswoman said. The company is leaning on its fuel trading and hauling affiliates to deliver supplies across the region, she said.

A Costco employee directed traffic at the fuel pumps at a store in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday.


Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Roger Homan, a caregiver, said he went to four stations in the Raleigh-Durham area Tuesday morning seeking to fill up a car for a client. He said he called the BJ’s Wholesale Club where he typically gases up, and was told to hurry over. By the time he arrived 15 minutes later, there was no gas.

“Every place I went, they had cones up so you couldn’t fill up,” Mr. Homan said.

Energy Secretary

Jennifer Granholm

said at a Tuesday press conference that Colonial could make a decision on restarting operations on Wednesday but cautioned that it would take a few days after that for the pipeline to be fully active. She urged consumers not to panic-buy fuel. “Much as there was no cause for hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there is no cause for hoarding gas now,” she said.

The disruptions come with the average U.S. price of regular unleaded gasoline already approaching $3 a gallon and a 6 ½-year high. Many Americans are expected to hit the road for the Memorial Day weekend and summer vacations after receiving coronavirus vaccines, and higher pump prices could magnify pressure on millions of consumers who are already facing higher costs for everything from appliances to chicken.

The national average gasoline price Tuesday morning was up about 2 cents at $2.985 a gallon, according to AAA. In Georgia, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was up more than 11 cents from the previous day; and in North Carolina, it rose about 5 cents, AAA data showed.

A Colonial Pipeline facility in Woodbridge, N.J. The company said Monday that it hoped to substantially restore service by the end of the week.


justin lane/EPA/Shutterstock

The Southeast is particularly vulnerable because it has fewer refineries and pipelines to deliver fuel. It is also more difficult for the region to quickly import large quantities of gasoline from other countries.

Frank Barnhill,

a 58-year-old marketing professional living near Myrtle Beach, S.C., said gas stations in the area had long lines and began running out of fuel Monday evening. He had filled up early in the day and only needed a little bit at night, but now plans to limit his driving.

“There is high anxiety,” he said.

The pipeline shutdown is also rippling through the aviation industry. Concerns about jet-fuel shortages have caused changes to two

American Airlines Inc.

long-haul flight routes out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a spokesman said. And

Southwest Airlines Co.

is bringing additional fuel to Nashville International Airport to supplement local supplies, according to a spokesman.

In Raleigh,

John Bootsma

got a text Monday night from his daughter telling he had better fuel up. “Here close to our house [in Charlotte, N.C.] there is no more gas,” the text read. He went to the nearest station around 10:45 p.m., but every tank was locked off. At the next station, he purchased $23 worth of gasoline, but he was the last person there able to do so.

‘It all shut down as soon as I put the nozzle back on the pump.’

— North Carolina resident John Bootsma

“It all shut down as soon as I put the nozzle back on the pump,” said Mr. Bootsma, a 55-year-old who advises churches and pastors. “The computer sign came up and said, ‘This pump has stopped pumping.’ The other pumps said the same thing.”

State and national officials have taken steps to ease fuel shortages in recent days. On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order temporarily suspending the state’s gas tax and

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

declared a state of emergency. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper also declared a state of emergency Monday because of the outage.

Also on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency waiver to ease some requirements for reformulated gasoline in the next week for Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The move came after the Biden administration issued an emergency waiver extending hours for truck drivers delivering fuel across 17 states, including several across the Southeast.

Ann Faircloth said she drove 200 miles from High Point in central North Carolina to Halifax in the state’s northeastern corner as part of her volunteer ministerial work. She said she had found stations out of gas all along her route when she stopped to top off her tank. She bought $30 at the Sheetz near the Raleigh-Durham Airport, which she said she hoped would be enough to get her home.

Ms. Faircloth, 69, said the squeeze is sending prices higher than she budgeted for at $2.75 a gallon. “It’s really high now and that’s hard because I’m retired and on a fixed income.”

Gas pumps in Elizabethtown, N.C., on Monday. Gasoline demand is up significantly from a week earlier.


Andrew Sherman/Bloomberg News

Colonial Pipeline Shutdown

Write to Collin Eaton at collin.eaton@wsj.com, Amrith Ramkumar at amrith.ramkumar@wsj.com and Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com

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