CHARLOTTE — Drivers across not only the Charlotte area, but the entire Southeast are scrambling to find gas after a hack of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline led to panic-buying that has contributed to more than 1,000 gas stations running out of fuel.
Channel 9 has had crews spread out at dozens of gas stations across the Carolinas and most of them have had cars lined up, with drivers waiting to fill their tanks.
There is no gasoline shortage. Officials said the problem is “panic-buying” -- people who fill up when they don’t need to and bringing extra containers to fill those up as well.
Overnight, GasBuddy, a technology firm that tracks real-time fuel prices and supply across the country, reported at least 74% of gas stations across North Carolina were out of gas. GasBuddy also predicted that those outage numbers may climb higher over the next 48 hours before they begin to fall.
Channel 9′s Elsa Gillis spoke with driver Johnny Bravo who said it took him 23 hours to find gas.
“I’ve been trying to find gas all through Charlotte -- finally found it,” he said.
For those who can’t find gas, the Charlotte Area Transit System announced Wednesday that it’s offering fare-free transit for all community members. CATS said the free rides are to help people get to essential workplaces.
An announcement will be made when fare collection resumes.
In South Carolina, 43% of gas stations were without fuel as of Wednesday afternoon, according to GasBuddy.
As lines at the pump continue to grow in the state, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said waiting in them may be doing more harm than good.
Idling wastes whatever fuel you still have in your tank. According to DHEC, idling uses up to a half a gallon of gas per hour and idling for just 30 seconds wastes more fuel than restarting the engine.
Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this week signed an executive order declaring a State of Emergency in North Carolina due to the temporary shutdown of the pipeline.
Colonial Pipeline restarts operations days after major hack
The nation’s largest fuel pipeline restarted operations Wednesday, days after it was forced to shut down by a gang of hackers.
Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday that Colonial Pipeline restarted its operations at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of what is consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them.
The disruption caused long lines at gas stations in the Southeast due to distribution problems and panic-buying, draining supplies at thousands of gas stations.
The company released a statement saying it will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.
“As we initiate our return to service, our primary focus remains safety. As part of this startup process, Colonial will conduct a comprehensive series of pipeline safety assessments in compliance with all Federal pipeline safety requirements,” the statement read.
A large part of the pipeline resumed operations manually late Monday, according to Granholm.
Now that the pipeline has restarted, officials said it may take several days for the fuel supply to return to normal. Some areas may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period.
The pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region, but states in the Southeast are more reliant on it. Other parts of the country have more sources to tap. For example, a substantial amount of fuel is delivered to states in the Northeast by massive tankers.
Although there was no gasoline shortage, there was a problem getting the fuel from refineries on the Gulf Coast to the states that need it, and officials were scrambling to find alternate routes to deliver it.
“What you’re feeling is not a lack of supply or a supply issue. What we have is a transportation issue,” said Jeanette McGee, spokeswoman for the AAA auto club.
The widespread panic-buying makes the situation worse -- just as it did with toilet paper and cleaning supplies at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic or like it does with bread and milk ahead of storms. According to Gas Buddy, more than half of gas stations in North Carolina were out of fuel as of 2:45 p.m. Wednesday.
(EXPLAINER: Channel 9 walks you through how to use the Gas Buddy Gasoline Availability Tracker)
Charlotte leaders respond to panic-buying across city
The City of Charlotte said on Wednesday that it is preparing for “prolonged interruption” of gas reserves. Officials said the city maintains its own fuel reserve and there is enough supply at the moment.
City staff have been asked to limit non-essential travel as a precautionary measure and officials are urging people to avoid buying unnecessary gas.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department echoed that at a briefing Wednesday morning, saying the gas shortage will not affect its operations at all and that it has an emergency fuel reserve.
According to CMPD, the department has not experienced any widespread crime-related issues associated with the gas shortage. Patrol officers will be conducting checks in response areas with gas stations to ensure things are running as smoothly as possible.
The department said though it’s not illegal for people to hoard gas, they should only purchase the amount of fuel they need to ensure there is enough fuel for others in the community.
Price gouging is illegal and should be reported immediately.
North and South Carolina’s top prosecutors have enacted a measure criminalizing price gouging.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that he had declared an “abnormal disruption” in the fuel market following the hacking of the Colonial Pipeline, allowing him to put the state’s price gouging statute in effect.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein made a similar announcement Tuesday afternoon, saying the price gouging law is in effect after Gov. Roy Cooper declared a statewide state of emergency.
In such a circumstance, anyone found to be renting or selling a commodity at “an unconscionable price” could be charged with price gouging.
Anyone who suspects price gouging in South Carolina can contact Wilson’s office at 803-737-3953 or email email@example.com.
In North Carolina, you can report potential price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filling a complaint here.
There were scattered reports of higher gasoline prices, but prices were rising even before the pipeline incident heading into the busy summer driving season. Nevertheless, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm warned gas station owners, “We will have no tolerance for price gouging.”
(WATCH: Action 9: What to do if you see price gouging)
“When will gas shortage end?”: Charlotte residents flood Google with gas-related searches
Google is tracking a tremendous increase in Charlotte residents looking up these five searches related to gas:
- Gas hack
- Gas cyber attack
- When will gas shortage end
- How long will gas shortage last
- Gas pipeline hack
Google Trends is referring to the searches as “breakouts” because the search terms have grown by more than 5000%.
In North Carolina, Google searches for electric cars are also up. Over the past 7 days, searches for “electric cars for sale” have increased by 400%. “Cheapest electric cars” searches are up 190 % and “used electric cars” are up 140%.
US gas prices hit an average of $3 per gallon for first time since 2014
Don’t be shocked if you see a sign for $3 gas. According to, Gas Buddy, that’s the new national average and it’s the highest it has been in years.
Gas Buddy said the increase in prices is due to COVID-19 related recovery, which is pushing things back to normal and leading to rising gasoline demand.
The national average price for a gallon of gasoline ticked above $3 for the first time since 2014 Wednesday, according to the AAA auto club. Prices begin to rise around this time every year and the AAA auto club said Wednesday that the average price hit $3.008 nationally.
“While this is not a milestone anyone wants to celebrate, it’s a sign that things are slowly returning to normal,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “In this case, rising gas prices are a sign Americans are getting back out into the world — attending baseball games, going to concerts, taking a road trip — basically staying anywhere but at home.”
GasBuddy expects summer gas prices not to set records, but settle down to levels more similar to 2018: the national average briefly rising above $3/gallon but eventually falling back under and remaining in the upper $2 to low $3 per gallon range.
The AAA expects more than 37 million people to travel at least 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day weekend, up 60% from last year, which was the lowest since AAA began keeping records in 2000.
(WATCH: Lake Norman triathlon in jeopardy as gas stations run empty on fuel)
Here are a few FAQ from AAA regarding gas concerns across the Carolinas:
Q: Is this all a result of panic buying or do we have enough supply in the Carolinas?
A: Combination. We expected that stations would have low availability this week, but in some areas (Carolinas/GA), happening sooner bc of panic buying.
Q: When do you think things will get back to normal and stations get resupplied?
A: Stations are being refueled ASAP now. We will know more (re: normal) once we have a date for the pipeline restart – Colonial said they should have an announcement on restart by COB today.
Q: What do you tell motorists driving who can’t find gas?
A: Call stations to locate where gas is available.
In regards to the Carolinas, are there problems getting the fuel from the tank farms to the gas stations?
A: Other than the general shortage of drivers, I’m not aware of any trouble getting it in. The Carolinas are a priority for refueling, I do know that much.
Q: How much of this is a result of fewer tank drivers?
A: It’s playing into the mix, but the larger issue is the pipeline and not having the fuel readily available at terminals.
(WATCH: EXPLAINER: Why the Colonial Pipeline hack matters)
Multiple U.S. agencies are coordinating efforts to avert any potential shortage, should they arise.
The White House said Wednesday that the Department of Transportation is now allowing Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to use interstate highways to transport overweight loads of gasoline and other fuels under existing disaster declarations.
The department’s Maritime Administration completed a review of potential actions available under the Jones Act, a U.S. maritime law that requires shipments between U.S. ports, including fuel, to be moved by American-flagged ships.
The Department of Homeland Security is prepared to review any temporary Jones Act waiver requests from companies if there is not sufficient capacity to get to regions suffering fuel shortages, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(WATCH: Some local gas stations run out of fuel amid Colonial Pipeline shutdown)
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