The company whose pipeline supplies most of the gasoline to North Carolina says its pipelines from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast will remain open, though “deliveries will be intermittent and dependent on terminal and refinery supply.”
The Colonial Pipeline Co. had closed its line carrying diesel and jet fuel Wednesday, and said it would shut the pipeline carrying gasoline on Thursday in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. But late Thursday morning, the company put out a statement saying that both lines remain operating east of Lake Charles, La. Colonial’s pipelines serve terminals in Greensboro and Selma.
The uncertainty over supplies caused by the Gulf storm has driven up gas prices just as hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians prepare to hit the road over the long Labor Day weekend. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in the state was $2.361 early Thursday, 17 cents more than a week earlier, according to AAA. The Triangle average was $2.34 per gallon, but prices rose throughout the day, to top $2.60 in places.
“Consumers will see a short-term spike in the coming weeks with gas prices likely topping $2.50/gal, but quickly dropping by mid to late September,”AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said in a statement. “AAA does not expect refineries to be offline for months, as early reports indicate minimal to no significant damage to Corpus Christi and Houston refineries.”
Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order on Thursday, declaring a state of emergency that temporarily suspends vehicle size and weight restrictions for trucks carrying gasoline and waives limits on the number of hours drivers of those trucks can be on the road. On Wednesday, Cooper asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to waive certain federal regulations on the formulas for gasoline to try to boost supplies in the state, and those were granted the same day.
The state law against price gouging also went into effect. The law defines gouging as “a price that is unreasonably excessive under the circumstances,” and state Attorney General Josh Stein urged people to report “suspiciously high” gas prices by calling 877-566-7226 or filing a complaint at www.ncdoj.gov.
Gas prices usually begin to go down around Labor Day, as the summer driving season comes to an end. AAA says the temporary shutdown of some refineries along the Gulf Coast will delay that decline, but prices will eventually come down.
“It is important to remember not to panic and overbuy gas – as there is no evidence that there will be a shortage in our states,” said Dave Parsons, president of AAA Carolinas, which predicts more than a million people from North and South Carolina will travel this weekend. “We encourage drivers to go about their Labor Day vacations as planned and not to panic at the pump.”
The Triangle receives most of its gasoline from the Gulf Coast, where Harvey came ashore Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane. As of Monday, high winds, loss of power and flooding had resulted in the loss of about one quarter of oil-refining capacity in the region, according to the Oil Price Information Service, a company that closely follows the industry. Some refineries in the Corpus Christi area were preparing to restart operations on Wednesday, but others farther up the coast were still assessing the damage, the company reported.
Colonial said its pipelines west of Lake Charles to Houston are closed because of flooding and other damage from Hurricane Harvey.
“We currently estimate that we will be able to return to service from Houston Sunday, following an evaluation of our infrastructure and successful execution of our start up plan,” the company said in the statement.
Two shutdowns of Colonial pipelines last year caused shortages and price increases in North Carolina. A leak in Alabama shut the pipeline for 12 days in September 2016, followed two months later by an explosion that shut it down again.
The N.C. Department of Transportation says it will suspend construction of interstates and major federal and state highways from 6 a.m. Friday until midnight on Tuesday, with some exceptions. They include:
▪ The ramp from eastbound Interstate 40 to eastbound I-540 near Raleigh-Durham International Airport will be closed from 10 p.m. Friday until 7 a.m. Tuesday. Drivers may take one of four detour routes to get on I-540.
▪ I-85 will be reduced to a single lane in each direction between Henderson and the Virginia state line in Vance and Warren counties. NCDOT urges travelers headed to Richmond, Va., and points north to consider taking eastbound I-40 to I-540 and U.S. 64 to connect with northbound I-95 near Rocky Mount.