Gas shortage? Gas prices top $3 as Colonial Pipeline blow reverberates

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    Gas prices jumped just above $3 a gallon Wednesday, and many gas stations in the Southeast were out of fuel as nervous motorists rushed to fill up in the wake of the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline. According to the latest figures from AAA, the national average price for gas is up 8 cents from the week before to $3.01.

    Operators of the Colonial Pipeline, a robust system that delivers fuel across the East Coast, had to shut it down Saturday following a ransomware attack.  The Colonial Pipeline says it’s aiming to “substantially” restore service by the end of the week, which would likely limit most of the fallout. But in the next few days, motorists could feel the effects. The effect is concentrated mainly in the Southeast, with station outages occurring throughout the region.

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    The governors of Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia have declared states of emergency to make sure there are enough fuel supplies. “Today’s emergency declaration will help North Carolina prepare for any potential motor vehicle fuel supply interruptions across the state and ensure motorists can have access to fuel,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in a statement.

    Colonial Pipeline

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    On Tuesday, demand for gas was up more than 14% compared to the same day a week ago, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at fuel-savings app GasBuddy, which tracks prices and shortages. Bloomberg reports the Biden administration may consider waiving the Jones Act, passed in 1920, to allow foreign tankers to transport gasoline and diesel fuel.

    Here’s what else you need to know:

    Gas shortages: What parts of the East Coast could feel one?

    The Colonial Pipeline system delivers about 45% of the fuel for the East Coast, including gasoline and jet fuel. It runs more than 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey. States like Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia may be especially vulnerable because they have limited options in terms of fuel transportation alternatives. Gulf Coast states can rely more readily on shipments from tankers.

    How many stations are out of gas?

    As of Wednesday morning, nearly a quarter of all gas stations in North Carolina were out of gas, according to GasBuddy. About 15% of gas stations in Georgia and Virginia were also without gas. At a Citi Stop station in Asheville, North Carolina, employee Jessica Alcocer said the store ran out of gas on Monday afternoon. “Everyone’s panicking,” she said.

    How will this impact air travel?

    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. Typically airlines load only enough energy for a single flight because topping off adds to the plane’s weight and hurts mileage. Most airplanes can carry enough fuel for a round trip, but the extra fuel burn costs money.

    How did this happen?

    We’re not exactly sure yet. The FBI has said that an online gang known as DarkSide struck the Colonial Pipeline system with a ransomware attack, taking computerized systems hostage until a payment is made. “We continue to work with the company and our government partners on the investigation,” the FBI said.

    Could a hack happen again?

    Yes. The episode illustrates how vulnerable the nation’s energy infrastructure is to infiltration. “It absolutely exposes a major vulnerability,” de Haan said. Oil Price Information Service analyst Tom Kloza says it’s a “wakeup call” for the energy industry, adding, “Imagine if it was one of the power companies.”

    Should you fuel up now?

    Only if you have to. DeHaan urged drivers not to panic in states along the Gulf and southeastern Atlantic coasts. Don’t “go out and hoard gasoline and make the problem much worse,” he said.

    How can I find gas near me?

    The GasBuddy app features a fuel availability tracker that tells users which stations have no gas, fuel, or power.  The tracker is crowdsourced, and motorists are encouraged to report local stations out of gas or energy.

    How can I preserve gas in my tank?

    Here are some tips to consider.

    • Plan ahead to accomplish multiple errands in one trip, and whenever possible, avoid high-traffic times of the 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 more significant for small cars than for larger models.
    • Minimize your use of air conditioning. Even at highway speeds, open windows have a more negligible effect on fuel economy than the engine power required to operate the air conditioning compressor.
    • Park in the shade or use a windshield sunscreen to lessen heat buildup inside the car in hot weather. This reduces the need for air conditioning (and thus fuel) to cool down the vehicle.

    How can I store gas safely?

    If you plan on buying gas to keep in reserve, here are some tips on storing it safely, according to ExxonMobil:

    • Store the gasoline in an approved fuel can or tank that’s usually 5 gallons or less. Also, don’t fill up all the way, so there’s room in the container for the gas to expand.
    • Keep containers tightly sealed and use caution handling them to avoid spilling gas.
    • Store gasoline at room temperature, and keep it away from potential heat sources such as the sun or a furnace.
    • Store gasoline in a detached shed or garage, at least 50 feet away from ignition sources such as pilot lights.

    Contributing: Mackensy Lunsford of the Asheville Citizen-Times; Nicholas Katzban of NorthJersey.com; The Associated Press.

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