For older Americans, the gasoline lines that popped up Wednesday were shades of the 1970s. For others, a true need for gas, fear or a mistrust of what they were being told prompted them to get in line to fill up their tanks.
Now that Colonial has restarted its pipeline operations after a cybersecurity attack, it will be a few days before things return to normal.
Colonial has said it will move as much fuel as possible, as safely as possible. But after having its operations down for six days, the company said it might continue to experience intermittent service interruptions.
“It takes a couple of weeks for the supply to get down from Texas to Linden, New Jersey, usually about a two-week timeframe, which, if we didn’t have all the panic buying going on would have been plenty of time to make sure every gas station in America is resupplied,” Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst with The Price Futures Group, Inc., told WTOP.
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Flynn added that the tanker trucks which carry fuel to individual stations will be loading up Thursday in Linden and then head south. He believes the trucks will head to destinations based on demand, but can’t say for certain.
He estimated that the number of tanker trucks on the road will be about 20% of the pre-shutdown normal and that it would take a couple weeks to get trucks back up to 100%.
Colonial Pipeline said that by later Thursday, stations in most of the markets it serves should be getting some gas shipments.
GasBuddy petroleum analyst Allison Mack said that’s good news, but “people need to hang tight.”
“I hope this is really good news for people and hope this will, you know, get rid of all the anxiety that people have been feeling and filling up unnecessarily,” she said. “This means that there’s going to be some relief, instead of zero gallons of fuel coming in, there will be some. And so with that, I think this will actually mentally help consumers feel like they don’t need to buy and fill up.”
During remarks Thursday, President Biden said the Colonial Pipeline is operating on “manual control” from North Carolina to Maryland.
Patrick De Haan, a spokesman for GasBuddy who analyzes the petroleum market, tweeted that that people in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina would see headaches in getting gas for seven to 14 days.
“The situation will definitely take time and slowly improve due to a high number of outages and higher number of stations to refuel,” he said.
GasBuddy, which also monitors gas prices, said some stations in the region again have fuel.
Virginia has 50% of stations without fuel. For D.C. it’s 73% and Maryland, 39%. North Carolina has 70% without gasoline, according to GasBuddy.
One positive note, according to De Haan, is that Norfolk, Virginia, was among the cities seeing some improvement in gas outages, along with cities in North Carolina and Florida.
Mary Goldburg, 60, of Norfolk, said she needs her car for work but also to see her grandchildren — whom she barely got to see last year. Her job includes delivering T-shirts for events and other promotional products.
“I can’t get paid until my customers get their products,” said Goldburg as a slow-operating pump filled her tank for more than 20 minutes at a 7-Eleven.
Construction worker Jamar Gatison, 36, was also filling up his tank there Wednesday before he had a doctor’s appointment.
“I’m about to run out of gas, so I have no choice,” Gatison said, adding that he is also is an Uber Eats driver but wasn’t planning on delivering food that night because he didn’t want to wait in line again.
Restaurants and bars, which are already struggling to fill job openings, will find themselves particularly squeezed, said Robert McNab, an economics professor at Virginia’s Old Dominion University. Some workers may not be able to come to work. And some customers may abandon plans to eat out.
“In all likelihood, these service workers will be impacted most significantly, with rising fuel and food prices eating a larger part of their household budgets and income being reduced this month by the fear-induced shortage of gasoline,” McNab said.
The national average for a gallon of gas did go up a penny from Wednesday to $3.01 a gallon. De Haan said prices may decline, but if Memorial Day weekend is a busy travel weekend, prices will go back up.
Fuel prices are updated on the U.S. Energy Information Administration website.
Industry experts recommended that people not drive if they did not need to do so and not panic buy or shortages could worsen.
“Hopefully the panic will go away and that will allow the gas stations to get caught up a little bit with supply,” Flynn said, adding that prices will go down once supply increases.
Watch for price gouging
Concerns about rising gas prices and the prospect of price gouging prompted officials to speak out.
“Our anti-price gauging laws have taken effect,” Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring said. “A lot of Virginians are struggling trying to make ends meet and the last thing they should have to worry about is getting ripped off at the gas pumps.”
Price gouging is illegal during a declared state of emergency in D.C. The city is under an emergency because of the pandemic.
“We won’t let businesses operating in bad faith harm residents,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told WTOP in a statement. “We investigate every complaint we receive, and over the course of the pandemic, we’ve sent numerous cease and desist letters to stop this unlawful behavior and filed multiple lawsuits against businesses that have violated the law.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also issued a warning: “We’re not going to allow for price gauging and we’ll take steps to stop that from happening.”
Anyone noticing extremely high prices or sudden jumps should report it.
President Biden said during remarks Thursday that the government will monitor gas prices after warning station owners not to take advantage of consumers.
How to report problems
Residents are encouraged to report any scams fraud, price gouging or other unfair business practices in D.C. to the Office of Consumer Protection vial email at firstname.lastname@example.org, calling 202-442-9828 or texting 202-738-5212. Those interested in submitting a complaint can find more information on the D.C. attorney general’s website.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring encouraged drivers to report suspected price gouging to the state’s Consumer Protection Section at email@example.com or by calling 800-552-9963. A complaint form is also available on the attorney general’s website.
The Virginia Emergency Support Team will host a virtual briefing about the situation at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Maryland’s Office of Consumer Protection has information on consumer protections online.
WTOP’s Kristi King and The Associated Press contributed to this story.