The company whose gasoline pipeline broke in Alabama said Tuesday morning that it had finished a 500-foot bypass pipe and hoped to have fuel flowing again Wednesday, but finding gas has already became a second job for a lot of people – and some were finding it a tough task.
Despite the worry, however, Gov. Pat McCrory urged drivers to avoid the temptation to top off tanks whenever they can.
“That causes more problems than anything,” McCrory said, because it disrupts the normal supply and demand for what is available.
Supplies shortened by a pipeline leak triggered long lines at some stations and dry pumps at others and conjured up memories for those old enough to remember the gas panics of the 1970s.
Tuesday morning, Colonial Pipeline Co. issued a statement saying, “Construction, fabrication and positioning of the bypass segment around the leak site is complete. Colonial is in the process of executing a hydrostatic test of the segment, which is approximately 500 feet in length, to ensure its structural integrity.”
“Colonial Pipeline now projects a Line 1 restart of tomorrow, Wednesday,” the company said of the pipe that leaked about 225,000 gallons of gasoline.
McCrory noted the company’s warning that it will take a few days for the supply to gas stations to get back to normal, and shortages and searches were a fact of life by Monday.
Before dawn Tuesday, most stations with gas appeared to be doing a brisk business. Whether you could find those stations was, as one Johnston County resident put it, “hit and miss, hit and miss.”
At a Circle K station on South Saunders Street in Raleigh, Lee Phelps of Wake Forest said he had tried two stations on N.C. 98 early in the morning and two more later on before finding the Circle K.
While he spoke, a tanker finished reloading underground tanks.
A clerk at the station, Barbara, said the station has run out Monday afternoon but got a delivery about 11 p.m. and the one that was finishing while Phelps filled his SUV for $2.099 a gallon. Company policy forbids employees from giving their last names, Barbara said.
A Mobil station nearby was selling gas, as was a Speedway station. A little farther south on the other side of South Saunders, however, a clerk at an Exxon station looked out at gas nozzles with plastic bags over them and said he had only diesel to sell.
People he called at his supplier Tuesday morning had no definite answer for him about when a tanker would reach his station.
Robin Trout is a court clerk at the Wake County Justice Center and has enough fuel Tuesday to get to work from Holly Springs, but not enough to get home. She planned to head out late in the morning to search for an open station.
Trout had tried seven stations on her way home Monday without success. With a quarter-tank left, she said, she could not go exploring for fuel.
On her way to Raleigh on Tuesday, she saw “cars all over the place” at a BP station, “so I figured great!” They were, however, other drivers getting the same bad news as her: no gas.
One woman who asked that her name not be used said she had left her home near the Raleigh-Cary border at 7 a.m. to look for gas. She drove up and down Western Boulevard without success until she pulled into a small station at the corner of Pullen Road.
The station had paper signs over the pump windows, she said, and she expected them to say fuel was out, but instead they said each driver could have only $10 worth of gas to stretch supplies. She got her $10 worth.
A Family Fare BP station on N.C. 98 near Interstate 85 in Durham was out of diesel fuel, but cars were filling up with gas there shortly after 6 a.m.
Local governments operate fleets of vehicles and have been watching supplies.
Lisa Luten, spokeswoman for the Wake County Public School System, said Tuesday that their buses use diesel fuel. The district always keeps a six-day supply of diesel on hand and has been able to maintain that so far, but added, “We are closely monitoring the [gas] situation for other implications.”
Tamara Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office said patrol cars have not had trouble filling up at county-owned pumps, but deputies have been told not to leave cars idling when they could be shut off.
Youngsville on Monday, Michelle Bowers tried three stations that had sold out before discovering gas at the Harris Teeter in Wake Forest. “The line was 20 cars deep off of Capital Boulevard,” Bowers said. “I pulled in another way and got behind a man filling up 10 big gas cans. The big ones. I finally told the attendant directing traffic that what he was doing didn’t seem quite right, especially since they were telling people they were almost out.”
AAA reports that the average price of a gallon in North Carolina on Monday morning was $2.16, up from last week’s average of $2.05. The national average was $2.20. More than 600 customers had reported price gouging at gas stations statewide as of Monday evening, the state Attorney General’s Office said. The Consumer Protection Division issued subpoenas Monday to a gas station that allegedly charged $4.50 a gallon, and to a gas wholesaler. If you think a station’s prices are too high, file a complaint with the state Department of Justice at nando.com/gouging.
Cooper’s office said he expects to subpoena more gas stations later this week.
On Monday, Colonial announced that it was shipping “significant volumes” on a second pipeline and that supplies have been delivered or were on their way to retailers. Most stations that ran out of gas over the weekend should be receiving fuel Monday and Tuesday, according to the company.
Colonial is building a temporary pipeline that will bypass the leaking section. Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday that Colonial has estimated it will be completed by the middle to end of this week, and that normal flows will be restored after several days.
But as word of the leak spread, people started filling all of their vehicles and other gas containers and stations started going dry. Adam Horani, manager of the Garner Road Stop and Go, said he had 3,000 gallons in his tanks on Sunday.
“This morning I came and now I have like 200 gallons,” Horani said Monday morning. “I called the company, and they told me that they don’t have any more. I don’t know if I’m going to get any or not. I’ll know by the evening.”
News of the gas shortage prompted Morris Richardson of Raleigh to fill up both of his cars Monday morning.
“I have noticed that prices have increased,” Richardson said, as he pumped gas at the Exxon at Lake Wheeler Road and Centennial Parkway, where the price of a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.19. “I’m a little bit nervous. Keep in mind, I was here when we had gas shortages in the ’70s, too.”
Steve Byers, owner of Marathon Gas on Lake Wheeler Road, said he had spent the morning calling regular customers to warn them about the possible gas shortage.
“We blow off most of these type of things, but this is a main artery,” Byers said, referring to the pipeline that brings refined gasoline from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast, from Atlanta to New York. “We’ve been trying to inform the customers as much as possible that this is not one of them fluky things.”
Byers said he had heard that the pipeline might not be repaired for seven to 10 days, and added that suppliers had told him they are not sure when he will be able to get more gas.
“I just advise folks not to drive unless they have to,” Byers said. “Which is not good for my business, but any time they can get back, they should.”
The state declared an “abnormal market disruption” Friday evening, and the N.C. Attorney General’s Office shared via Twitter and Facebook that the state’s price gouging law was in effect. Gov. Pat McCrory activated the state Emergency Operations Center and issued executive orders waiving trucking restrictions on fuel trucks to try to bolster supplies.
“Based on our ongoing updates from Colonial, the construction of a bypass pipeline is moving forward which will soon allow fuel supply operations to return to normal,” said McCrory. “In the meantime, my executive orders remain in effect to protect motorists from excessive gas prices and minimize any interruptions in the supply of fuel.”
Once the leak is taken care of, lower gas prices should return. Pump prices typically decline this time of year as we move to a winter-blend fuel and people don’t travel as much as they do in the summer.
Staff writer Mary Cornatzer contributed
Do you suspect gouging?
If you think a station’s prices are too high, file a complaint with the state Department of Justice at nando.com/gouging.