Panic buying causes East Coast fuel shortage

UPDATE: May 13 – The Colonial Pipeline began a slow reopening on Wednesday evening. It will take several days for the pipeline to reach normal capacity and up to a few weeks to replenish a sizeable supply.

As of Wednesday evening, up to 65 percent of gas stations in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia were out of supply. The hoarding behavior even created shortages in areas not served by the pipeline.

Relative to this crisis and other factors, national average gas prices are expected to be above $3 per gallon into the summer months.

News about potential gas shortages on the East Coast and rising prices have sparked a panic in consumers who are rushing to fill up their tanks at unsustainable rates. As of Tuesday night, up to 12 percent of stations in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia were out of gas.

When Colonial Pipeline was breached by hackers using ransomware, the company shut down their pipeline system that runs from Houston, TX to Linden, NJ. The company continues to make forward progress in bringing the system back online. Concurrently, both aerial and ground teams are closely inspecting the pipeline.

In the meantime, the company is executing auxiliary delivery methods. Approximately 967,000 barrels of gas have been trucked to the following markets: Atlanta, Ga., Belton and Spartanburg, S.C., Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., Baltimore, Md., and Woodbury and Linden N.J. In addition, they have inventory of two million barrels to be deployed through the pipeline upon restart.

Federal officials and state governors are advising residents not to hoard gas. The pipeline is expected to be online again by the end of the week, but this consumer behavior could cause repercussions that may last for weeks.

Colonial Pipeline supplies 45 percent of gasoline to the East Coast. The other 55 percent coming through the Plantation and Laurel pipelines has remained unaffected by the disruption.

For fleets with concerns about fuel availability and expenses for vehicles in these areas:

  • Advise your drivers not to buy gas in a panic. They can download the GasBuddy app to find available fuel near them. Encourage them to only fill up as truly needed.
  • Work with your fleet partners to track and predict fuel expenses. Drivers can also use the WEX Connect app or AAA to find affordable fuel near them.
  • Fleets relying on bulk fuel should contact their providers to confirm scheduled deliveries.

We will continue to provide updates on the East Coast fuel shortage through The Morning Brake and on our websites.