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East Coast fuel shortages: What’s to be done – and how real are they?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Last week’s cyberattack against the major East Coast oil pipeline set up circumstances that could potentially create fuel shortages. At mid-week, about 1,000 stations reported “out of gas” situations. What’s being done to help drivers along the East Coast get that precious motivator back in their tanks? And are the fuel outages really the fault of the pipeline shutdown?

A drop in the bucket

For many RVers, Pilot Flying J travel centers figure predominantly in their refueling picture. At midweek, the company’s management put out a notice regarding the situation and its effects on their brand. Gasoline demand across the Southeast is up, but “diesel is holding steady in most areas,” the company reports. While most of their locations do have diesel, a few do not. At mid-week, six stations had diesel, but not gas; two had no fuel whatsoever; and five were out of diesel. However, of the five, three were expecting deliveries that day.

From that perspective, that’s not much more than a “drop in the bucket” when one considers how many of the big fuel corporation’s stops there are in the affected area. So what about these “1,000 stations out of fuel”? The numbers may paint a picture of what’s really happening.

Stock market number cruncher Standard & Poor’s has its own section dedicated to watching all things petroleum. While they’re the ones who put out the “1,000 stations out” report, their familiarity with numbers points a finger: “A lot of that is because they’re [gas stations are] selling three or four times as much gasoline that they normally sell in a given day, because people do panic.” This, according to S&P analyst Tom Kloza. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

So, apparently much of the fuel shortage isn’t really because of the pipeline shutdown but, rather, the perception of drivers and their knee-jerk reaction to it. Photos of drivers lining up and filling up multiple gas cans, or standing in pickup truck beds pumping gas into barrels, have become widespread in the media. Uncle Sam reminds folks to take a breath and don’t fuel hoard.

The pipeline is largely running already

In actuality, on Monday a goodly chunk of the vast pipeline had already been turned back on. How? The computers are still down, but that doesn’t prevent guys with muscles and wrenches from physically going out and turning the thing back on. Colonial Pipeline says pretty much all of the pipeline should be flushing fluids by the end of this week. This information provided by Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. Energy Secretary.

Already the feds had eased back on fuel tanker driving restrictions, allowing drivers the ability to drive longer hours to be able to route fuel over the highway system. Train companies have been pressed into service to bring tanker loads via rail.

Georgia, hang onto your receipts

With good intentions by government can also come the usual tail-twisting. In Georgia, state officials declared that fuel stations should stop collecting motor fuel and diesel taxes for the time being. Sounded like a great thing to Georgia drivers. But neighboring states weren’t too keen on the idea, and have started charging excise tax on fuel that travels through their states on the way to Georgia. Pilot Flying J says if you buy fuel in Georgia, you should keep your receipts until the matter is resolved.

RVers traveling in the South can only hope locals will take to heart the admonition to not fuel hog. If they do, with the other measures in place, hopefully travelers will be able to skate through this latest fuelish frustration without too much trouble.

Related

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Propane shortages. Skyrocketing prices. Problems ahead?

##RVT1000b

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Irv
5 months ago

The way to stop panic buying is to raise the price during shortages.

Rather than lower the gas tax, the governor should have raised it temporarily by a dollar or two a gallon.

JulieInWoods
5 months ago

I shake my head, of course, but don’t harbor “extra” wrath for the folks stocking up on gas… as I must first adjust my critical eye on media. It was just last year when all we saw were empty shelves and all we heard was consumer doom and gloom. People acted accordingly from perpetuated fear. It’s no different now — self-fulfilling prophecy. The negative, the terrifying, the {bleeped}, the outrageous, etc. are always the focus. That’s how media gets its viewers, clickers, and listeners — and its big bucks.

In the meantime, we’re on the very eastern SC/GA line. No trouble getting diesel (or gas, from what I see) from coast to the interstate — Savannah, Tybee, HHI, Bluffton, Beaufort. A few stations are out, some increase in price. This too shall pass.

TomS
5 months ago

Don’t you just love Koch industries business practices. Can’t even protect their billing services, that’s why they turned off the flow.

pursuits712
5 months ago

We are camping in SWVA and last week had to travel I-81 from to Johnson City, TN and back from Wytheville, Va. for business. We tried 3 stations — two of those major travel centers — and got the “out of gas” messages. As soon as we decided to get off the interstate and try the secondary highways through small towns, we had no problem finding gas. Prices were in the $2.79-$2.89 range for regular.

Tom
5 months ago

Just drove I-10 from Alabama to South Georgia, able to get gas at all my favorite stations.
Did see a price of $3.089 in very rural Georgia town, typical price on my route was $2.899. Filled out in the middle of nowhere, Georgia $2.799.
No problem getting gas for this entire 3 week trip.

Joseph
5 months ago

We’re in NE GA. I needed to fill our car on Tuesday 5/11, so my wife could make her 70 mile RT commute. Only 1 station out of 10 I drove to had any gas. All of the stations listed their price @ $2.89 except the one with fuel – $3.19 a gallon. I filled up. Three days later I noticed the same station (Exxon) had priced their regular @ $2.69. All the other stations were still $2.89. I decided to fill up our 2nd car which was down to 1/4 of a tank. I pulled in and read the sign on the pump: “Sorry No fuel”. So, you can price it as low as you want if you don’t have any! Fortunately, other stations had fuel available for $2.89.

Stay safe, Joe

Silas Longshot
5 months ago

Per ‘Gas Buddy’, here in central GA, today, 5-16-21, prices range from $2.56 to $3.29. Of 45 stations within 10 miles of home, only 11 had gas

Firefly
5 months ago

I wish you had sourced GasBuddy which is doing a nice job painting a picture of the situation at a local level. Doesn’t matter if stations 50 miles away from you have fuel when you’re driving an RV and only get 10 mpg. Earlier in the week they were reporting statewide numbers in the mid-Atlantic region that had 30-40% of stations out of gasoline. That matched what I was seeing in Northern Virginia. It’s better now.

Fred
5 months ago

Travelling thru North Carolina this past week, with an F350 diesel towing our 5er, we found diesel with no problems at stations that were out of gas, & never encountered any lines to get the diesel.

Alex
5 months ago

Seems the petroleum industry added “hackers” to their marketing toolbox. When their profits decline, there was always a hurricane, a refinery fire, a strike or embargo to blame for fuel shortages and higher prices. This is a pattern. What could be next? Perhaps an out of control rocket smashes into a tank farm?

Gman
5 months ago
Reply to  Alex

As Colonel Klink used to say “very interesting”, lol. Like out here in Cali, don’t know the difference in summer fuel vs winter fuel for the rise in prices every year except for 2020, now that’s something to ponder on.

Eric Ramey
5 months ago

I live in Northern Virginia and most of the fuel stations that are reported as being “Out of Fuel” are only out until the next load of fuel comes in…typically later in the day or the next day.