Drivers scrambled to gas stations throughout the Charlotte area to fill up their tanks as the fallout from the Colonial Pipeline shutdown started to show, with reports of long lines and waits.
By late afternoon, many pumps were covered in yellow “out of service” bags.
A cybersecurity attack that targeted Colonial Pipeline data on Friday forced the shutdown of the 5,550-mile pipeline that delivers 45 percent of fuel in the Southeast and along the East Coast. The FBI on Monday blamed the attack on DarkSide, a “professional” and “organized” group of hackers, McClatchy News reported.
The pipeline crosses through Charlotte and the Carolinas.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on Monday and suspended “motor vehicle fuel regulations to ensure adequate fuel (supplies) throughout the state.” On Tuesday, he urged residents not to “rush to top off” their tanks.
Gas stations across the Charlotte area were seeing long lines and many ran out of gas, according to reports from drivers across social media and Observer staff members.
“There has been a traffic jam around every gas station I’ve passed in Charlotte this morning,” Marc Lancaster said in a tweet Tuesday. “Nothing like ‘supply will be fine unless people start panic buying’ to get people panic buying.”
A commenter on the Ballantyne Connection Facebook group said people were starting to get upset at the 7-Eleven at Pineville-Matthews Road near Carmel Commons. The Shell station up the road on Carmel “was out of service on all pumps,” the commenter said.
“We’re repeating toilet paper, Armageddon all over again,” she wrote.
Tiffany Wright, AAA Carolinas spokeswoman, told the Observer in an email on Tuesday that Cooper’s order should help with gas delivery regulations being lifted, but she primarily blames the gas shortages on “panic buying.”
“The longer the pipeline stays shut down, the higher (the) chances for shortages and higher prices at the pump,” Wright said. “But people are over-consuming big time!”
Gas stations open early, then lines formed
Observer staff members surveyed gas stations throughout the Charlotte area from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to see if lines were long and if pumps were empty.
During the early part of the day, most gas stations in south and east Charlotte had gas pumps open and some lines were spotted, according to staff reports.
By noon, gas stations in south, north and east Charlotte began to run out of fuel. Stations also ran out of gas in Belmont, Fort Mill, S.C., Tega Cay, S.C., and elsewhere.
A worker at the Exxon at 8325 Old Statesville Road told an Observer reporter that it could take up to 2 1/2 weeks to resupply the station’s gas pumps.
CMS, other agencies monitor gas crunch
School districts around the Charlotte area said they’re watching the fuel situation closely.
“We are in contact with our suppliers daily and are continuing to get our fuel,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spokesman Brian Hacker said.
Union County Public Schools aren’t impacted by the gas shortage, Tahira Stalberte, a spokeswoman for the school district, said Tuesday.
“At the moment we’re good,” she said. “The district has enough fuel now and more on reserve.”
Cabarrus County Schools currently has enough fuel to operate effectively and doesn’t anticipate a disruption in service, district spokeswoman Ronnye Boone told the Observer.
“We also are working with our fuel suppliers to secure shipments this week,” she said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police aren’t aware of any crimes caused by the gas crunch, and they have received few calls related to traffic congestion at gas stations, spokesman Officer Thomas Hildebrand wrote in an email.
“CMPD will continue to monitor and work with our partners to address any issues that may arise,” he said.
MEDIC spokeswoman Grace Nelson said the department is similarly in good shape for the moment. It keeps a supply of fuel for events like hurricanes or other disasters, she said.
“We are fortunate enough to have our own fill station at our headquarters and we always have adequate levels of fuel stores in preparation for cases like this,” Nelson said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management said it is actively monitoring the situation and urging the public to remain patient and avoid unnecessary gas purchases.
“The City of Charlotte maintains its own fuel reserve. There is enough fuel supply at this time, but the city is preparing for a prolonged interruption as a precaution to ensure essential services are maintained,” the agency said in a statement. “City of Charlotte staff are being asked to limit non-essential travel as a precautionary measure.”
A majority of fire stations have gas pumps located onsite, so there are currently no service delays or disruptions expected, a Charlotte Fire Department spokesman said Tuesday.
Cooper: ‘Full court press’ to get pipeline back up
In an afternoon tweet, Cooper said federal officials, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, told him they have a “full court press to get the Colonial Pipeline back up and fully operating quickly.” He said residents should also report price gouging and not rush to top off their gas tanks.
Although the Colonial Pipeline supplies other states that aren’t in the Southeast, Granholm said other pipelines can supply those states so the areas that need fuel the most will have it readily available.
“We know that we have gasoline, we just have to get it to the right places,” she said. “It’s not that we have a gasoline shortage, we have this supply crunch, and things will be back to normal soon. We’re asking people not to hoard and know that we’re all over this.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said on Tuesday that he “will not allow businesses to take advantage of this incident to charge excessive prices.”
“North Carolina’s price gouging law is in effect — please let my office know if businesses or people might be trying to profit off this situation so we can hold them accountable,” Stein said.
State residents who believe they are victims of price gouging can report concerns by calling 877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint at https://ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/price-gouging/.
Staff writers Lauren Lindstrom and Catherine Muccigrosso and Brian Murphy of McClatchy’s Washington bureau contributed to this story.
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