Why is North Carolina being hit so hard at the gas pumps?

CHARLOTTE — The latest numbers from Gas Buddy estimate 68% of North Carolina gas stations are without fuel as of Thursday morning. But there’s hopefully an end in sight with the Colonial Pipeline announcing Wednesday afternoon that it had begun the process of restarting operations.

There is no gasoline shortage in the U.S., according to government officials and energy analysts.

However, the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack exposed a critical vulnerability in how both crude oil and refined petroleum makes its way across the country and to gas stations.

Refineries are what turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, propane and any other number of products. They are spread across the country, but some of the largest are in Houston and New Orleans. That’s where the Colonial Pipeline comes in -- transporting that gasoline directly to dozens of giant tanks across the southeast.

These tanks, or terminals, are then what fill up smaller fuel trucks which haul up to 8,000 gallons of fuel to a local station.

All of the North Carolina terminals though are basically running on empty because the pipeline was shut down. Still, the main well has not run dry. There is plenty of gasoline at the refineries but the challenge is how to get it to North Carolina.

In the meantime, trucks, trains and even barges are hauling gasoline. But, at the Wilmington port, there is only room for two barges, and there’s a significant wait time there for fuel trucks to fill up. Then there’s the added drive time.


The distribution problems, compounded with the panic-buying, have been draining supplies at thousands of gas stations in the Southeast.

The scene at gas stations was far from typical Wednesday after governors of both North Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency to help ensure supply and access to gas.

Across the state, gas stations that actually had fuel saw long lines form as people panicked to fill up -- exactly what state leaders have said we all need to avoid doing.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Cooper again urged North Carolinians only to buy when you need gas.

”The shortages we’re seeing is pretty much related to panic buying from people,” he said. “I want to encourage people not to do that.”

The impact

American Airlines announced it would have to start “tankering” fuel. That means planes will load up on fuel in airports in states without supply issues and then fly to Charlotte with enough fuel to either not require a fill-up in Charlotte or require minimal fuel to continue on to the next destinatiion.

Some drivers pleaded with their neighbors to save the gas for people who really need it.

”It ends up costing businesses money,” said Travis McKee. “People freaking out like it’s an apocalypse. That costs money. We don’t need people filling up a 55-gallon drum to fill their tanks.”

Attorney General Josh Stein’s office said on Wednesday that there have been 392 calls to the price gouging hot line since Cooper declared the state of emergency earlier this week.

(WATCH: ‘It’s a mess’: Local woman stuck in Raleigh after difficulty finding gas)