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Gas shortages in NC to drag on for days

Gas station manager shares his take on Sept. 2016 southeastern gas shortage

Gas station manager Mike Coler says September 2016's gas shortage is "something that’s part of life and folks are just going to have to do the best they can.”
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Gas station manager Mike Coler says September 2016's gas shortage is "something that’s part of life and folks are just going to have to do the best they can.”

Scarce gasoline will continue to hamstring North Carolina for “several days,” Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday, encouraging consumers to conserve as stations across the Triangle run dry.

The state is receiving about a third of its normal gas flow, the governor said. And even with a bypass completed around the leaky pipeline in Alabama, it will take time to restore normal flows throughout the Southeast.

“We’ve successfully weathered fuel shortages before, and we will do it again,” McCrory said. “Now is the time to pull together as a state and to conserve fuel when it’s possible.”

Colonial Pipeline has finished a 500-foot bypass pipe and hopes to have fuel flowing again Wednesday. But finding gas will continue to be a second job for many motorists.

Stations that ran dry Monday night found their refilled tanks dwindling by lunchtime Tuesday. At Quality Mart on Blue Ridge Road, the 5,000 gallons delivered at 7 a.m. Tuesday had dropped to 3,000 four hours later.

“It was through nobody’s fault but the sheer demand,” said Mike Coler, the station’s manager.

Businesses that depend on gasoline watched the shortage with a nervous eye. In Holly Springs, Jason Donnelly operates his own Mister Softee franchise, filling up his truck’s 40-gallon tank every other day. On Tuesday, the tab ran $16 higher than usual. “I’m a little nervous about it going into Thursday or Friday,” Donnelly said.

Despite the worry, however, McCrory urged drivers to avoid the temptation to top off tanks whenever they can.

The average price per gallon shot up to $2.21 in Raleigh – an 8 percent uptick in the last week, according to the website gasbuddy.com. The state Attorney General’s office warned consumers to watch for price gouging triggered by the shortage, directing complaints to ncdoj.com. Since supplies became scant, more than 1,100 such complaints had been filed by late Tuesday.

Attorney General Roy Cooper issued subpoenas to three more gas stations Tuesday, bringing the total to five. One subpoena went to a station in Smithfield, which along with the others is accused of charging more than $3.99 per gallon.

“A supply crunch shouldn’t be an excuse to rip off people who need gas,” Cooper said. “We’re following up on consumers’ reports and taking action to investigate possible price gouging.”

Availability throughout the Triangle was hit or miss.

Familiar fill-up stops such as the Costco on Six Forks Road and the Speedway on Capital Boulevard north of downtown Raleigh saw rushes akin to the panics before a big hurricane. At the same time, stations on New Bern Avenue had pumps full with no wait.

Motorists like Gee Moss, 25, who stopped at a Valero station on Rock Quarry Road got lucky. No plastic covering the pump handles there. Regular gas was selling for $2.25 a gallon.

“Naw, I just came straight here,” Moss replied when asked if he had to ride all over town looking for fuel. “I live one block away, not even a mile.”

Not so lucky was Anita Keith, 55, of Garner, who was in Las Vegas last week when she started receiving text messages about the gas shortage.

“All I know is I got back from Vegas and I'm like, ‘What North Carolina done did?’ ” Keith said while her daughter, Yolanda Hinton, 35, pumped gas into the tank of her mom's Toyota Camry.

“My brother went to 11 places the other day,” Hinton said. “It was an hourlong wait last night.”

One station on Pullen Road had paper signs over the pump windows, warning each driver could have only $10 worth to stretch supplies.

Local governments that operate fleets of vehicles have been watching supplies.

Lisa Luten, spokeswoman for the Wake County Public School System, said Tuesday that the district always keeps a six-day supply of diesel on hand for its buses and has been able to maintain that so far. But, she added, “We are closely monitoring the [gas] situation for other implications.”

In Durham County, sheriff’s deputies have not had trouble filling up their patrol cars at county-owned pumps, but they’ve have been told not to leave cars idling when they could be shut off, said spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs.

The leak was discovered Sept. 9, prompting Colonial to shut down the pipeline. On Friday evening, nearly a week later, the state declared an “abnormal market disruption,” 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.

Staff writer Ron Gallagher contributed to this report.

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