Don’t make panic purchases of fuel

Published 11:10 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

by Cal Bryant
Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald

“It’s a crisis, but the main thing I can say is there is no need to panic.”

Those are the words of Michael Harrell of Ahoskie’s Jernigan Oil Company, owner of the Duck-Thru gas stations in Virginia and North Carolina, in the wake of a gas shortage prompted by a leak in a major East Coast pipeline.

A leak in Colonial Pipeline No. 1 was discovered on Sept. 9 in Shelby County, Alabama. A shutdown followed the same day and repairs began a few days later on this 36-inch line, one that normally pushes 1.3 million barrels of gasoline per day from refineries in Houston, Texas, to distribution centers across the Southeast and along the Eastern Seaboard.

“The leak was detected over a week ago, and we’re now feeling the effects,” said Harrell. “The problem is that crews down in Alabama had to initially contain the spill and perform clean-up before they could actually start with making repairs on the pipeline.”

Harrell said Colonial Pipeline officials are currently having a temporary line constructed to bypass the area of the ruptured main line.

“It’s about an 800-foot section of pipe being used for the bypass,” he said. “They’re hoping to get it up and flowing with gas by this weekend.”

In the meantime, Harrell said there will be sporadic outages at local gas stations.

“We’re doing all we can to keep gas in our tanks at our Duck-Thru locations, but when we experience panic purchases like we saw on Saturday, and especially on Sunday, that supply of gas will go quickly,” Harrell stressed.

“Will we experience some outages … yes we will, but they will be temporary,” Harrell added. “One store might be without gas for a couple of hours or for as much as one day, but the one right up the street may have plenty of gas. There will be sporadic outages over the next week to 10 days while the temporary pipeline is being constructed, but please don’t panic. There will be gas. I would advise that customers simply follow their normal habit of purchasing gas. When they panic they put a burden on the gas supply.”

Harrell said the local supply of gas will be supported two-fold.

“One is that Colonial actually has two pipelines, one for gas and the other for diesel,” he noted. “They have made preparations to use the diesel line to ship gas. Secondly, there are fuel barges now en route from the Gulf of Mexico to ports in Charleston (South Carolina), Wilmington and Norfolk. We’ll be able to send our fuel transports (trucks) to either Norfolk or Wilmington to purchase gas.”

Harrell did warn that the gas coming in on the barges will carry a higher price than what his company typically purchases from Colonial Pipeline.

“Customers may see an increase in the price at the pump, but it’s only because we’re having to pay a higher price for the fuel coming off the barges and that increase in price will be temporary,” he stressed.

He added that only regular gas will be available for purchase off the barges.

“We’ll be without higher grade gas temporarily,” Harrell stated.

With the flow of gasoline interrupted, the governors of six southern states, to include Virginia and North Carolina, have declared a state of emergency to allow truck drivers to work longer shifts to head off shortages at the pumps.

Those declarations also waive weight restrictions on fuel transport trucks.

“That helps us a lot,” Harrell said. “We’ll be working around the clock to get the gas from the ports to our stores.”

On Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued executive order 59 to alleviate any impediments to the transport of gasoline, including temporarily granting overweight/overwidth privileges and waiving DMV registration requirements for vehicles transporting gasoline, and granting limited exemption of hours of service worked for carriers.

On Thursday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory issued an executive order temporarily waiving hours of service restrictions for fuel vehicles traveling in and through the state in order to help prevent disruptions and backups at major fuel distribution hubs.

One day later, McCrory issued a second executive order that waives additional trucking restrictions and protects consumers from price gouging at the fuel pumps. Both executive orders remain in place for 30 days or until they are canceled.

Colonial Pipeline officials said on Monday that gasoline shipments initiated late last week are in the process of being delivered now to distribution terminals throughout the system, with many supplies already delivered to target destinations along the Houston-to-Greensboro pipeline system.

In an effort to minimize supply disruptions, last week Colonial Pipeline gathered gasoline from Gulf Coast refiners in order to ship supplies on its distillate line to markets throughout the affected region. As a result, following around-the-clock operations to effect this contingency plan, supplies of gasoline have been delivered and/or are in route to terminal locations in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina.

On Sunday, Colonial officials said it is aiming to complete its bypass construction for Line 1 this week, restarting full operation using the bypass for gasoline delivery from Houston to Greensboro.

Under normal circumstances, the Colonial Pipeline system transports approximately 2.6 million barrels per day of refined products, with Line 1 accounting for half of this volume.

CAL BRYANT is the editor of The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, North Carolina. He can be contacted at

STEPHEN FALESKI of The Tidewater News contributed to this report.