Almost 2 in 3 gas stations in North Carolina were out of fuel on Wednesday afternoon, as fuel outages tore through the Southeast.
Panicked motorists scrambled to fill up their vehicles and reserve containers, creating more shortages, after last week’s cyberattack on the nation’s largest fuel pipeline disrupted deliveries.
The chaos is “unfounded anxiety," Robert Sinclair, AAA’s Northeast senior manager of public affairs, told Yahoo Finance Live on Wednesday. "There's plenty of gasoline around and there are provisions being made. What we're seeing now, the shortages are being created by panic buying."
Warnings against gas hoarding hasn’t stopped drivers in the Southeast, the region most impacted by the pipeline’s temporary shutdown.
In Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina’s two largest metros, more than 70% of pumps were out of gas on Wednesday morning, according to data from GasBuddy. By afternoon, 65% of stations in the Tarheel State were reporting outages. For context, just 7.5% of the state’s gas stations reported fuel outages on Tuesday afternoon.
The same issue is playing out in Virginia with 44% of the state is reportedly out of gas, closely followed by 43% of station outages in Georgia. Outages are spilling into North Carolina’s neighboring states and beyond.
Both the governors of North Carolina and Georgia have declared a state of emergency because of the fuel shortages.
Across the country — even outside where the pipeline delivers — American gasoline demand is up 14.3% from last week, GasBuddy reports, with the national average topping $3 a gallon, the first time in almost seven years, according to AAA.
Southeastern gas demand and buying patterns have jumped “200% to 300% higher than normal,” Sinclair shared.
That’s “what's causing the problem,” he said.
“There's no need to hoard gasoline, just proceed as normal,” he added. “If everyone reverted to normal buying patterns, there would be no shortages right now.”
But the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline is not the sole culprit in rising pump prices. The disruption is colliding with a shortage of tank truck drivers who deliver gasoline as well as the unofficial kickoff of the summer vacation season when gas prices historically rise.
AAA is projecting 37 million people will be traveling for Memorial Day in two and a half weeks and 90% of them will be driving.
“All that extra demand leads to the price going up,” Sinclair said.
“We were seeing the prices go up for probably the past six or seven weeks as a result of speculation in the market,” Sinclair said. “Demand over the same period of time is actually down roughly 14% compared to 2019, the last — quote, unquote — normal year.”