Energy & Environment

Gas shortages likely to linger for days

Gas shortages in the Southeast are likely to linger for several days as a result of panic buying sparked by the recent outage of the Colonial Pipeline. 

Analysts who spoke to The Hill said shortages could last for a few days or as long as two weeks in the hardest-hit parts of the country.

Severe shortages have been seen in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, while 90 percent of stations in Washington, D.C., were also out of fuel for part of Friday, according to GasBuddy, a website that tracks gas prices using crowdsourced data.

As of Friday afternoon, 65 percent of stations in North Carolina, 48 percent of stations in South Carolina, 47 percent of stations in Georgia and 45 percent of stations in Virginia were dry, according to GasBuddy. 

Analysts said that the shortages were largely because of panic buying and hoarding that followed the shutdown, as panicked drivers purchased gas fearing a shortage. Some argued that it may take time for people to stop doing this, even though the pipeline has restarted. 

“The news has to percolate a bit that the pipeline’s back online before people can become more rational,” said Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis. 

Experts and organizations had somewhat varying estimates on how long this will take, but they all agreed it would be at least a few days. 

“We’re expecting [a return to normalcy] to take several days, at least through the weekend and the early part of next week,” Devin Gladden, a spokesperson for the American Automotive Association, told The Hill. “It’s still going to take a bit more time for things to get back to normal.”

Republicans have seized on the news of shortages to criticize the Biden administration, while the White House has taken pains all week to show it is on top of the situation.

President Biden delivered remarks Thursday urging people not to panic or hoard gasoline. The Department of Homeland Security also issued two waivers of a law that requires shipping between U.S. ports to be carried out by American ships, an attempt to alleviate the fuel supply issue. The Environmental Protection Agency has temporarily lifted an environmental requirement on what type of gasoline can be sold in some states. 

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said in a statement that its action was part of a “whole-of-government response.”

Mukesh Sahdev, senior vice president and head of downstream at research company Rystad Energy said that over the next few days, it’s important for the government to provide people with communication and clarity. 

“The communication side is very important because sometimes it’s not a big issue per se, it is the reaction to the issue and the panic buying … which causes probably a domino effect,” he said, clarifying in a follow-up email that he does believe the shutdown was also a big issue. 

With the news of the pipeline’s renewal, Sahdev predicted that “in the next week, things should be back pretty much to normal.”

“With the news that has been there, I think the hoarding probably has stopped already,” he said. “What this also means is that what people would have bought in the next 2, 3 days time, they already bought now.” 

De Haan estimated that in some of the hardest-hit areas like the Carolinas and Virginia, it could be between seven and 14 days until “gasoline is no longer a purchase that you have to think about.”

“The system’s overwhelmed, there’s multiple chokepoints,” he said, citing things like having a finite number of lanes where supply trucks can stock up. 

He said Friday that recovery may not be strong until Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, adding that those are days when gasoline demand is generally lower. 

“Don’t expect it to get really good in terms of recovery until probably Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, those are days where I would expect those percentages to improve overnight by at least a couple percentage points,” De Haan said. 

Colonial also warned retail customers not to expect an immediate return to normal on the retail end even as it announced full restoration of service Wednesday evening.

“Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal. Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during this start-up period,” Colonial spokesperson Eric Abercrombie said in a statement. “Colonial will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.”

Others in the industry similarly emphasized that it may not immediately return to normal. 

Susan Grissom, an analyst for the American Fuel and Petroleum Manufacturers, similarly emphasized in a blog post that the return to normalcy would not be immediate.

“When segments of the pipeline have been sitting idle for days, you don’t want to immediately flip the switch and have product move through at regular speeds,” she wrote Thursday. 

“A slower pace and incremental checks of the physical pipeline network are all involved in a safe restart. And, of course, that means time,” Grissom added. 



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