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Drivers across the East Coast are piling into gas stations, resulting in long lines and shortages as motorists cope with what could be a weeklong shutdown of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline because of a cyberattack.

Colonial Pipeline Co., operator of a 5,500-mile conduit for gasoline, diesel and refined products, said Monday it hoped to substantially restore service by the end of the week. It shut the pipeline late last week following a ransomware attack that U.S. officials have linked to a criminal gang known as DarkSide.

The Colonial pipeline runs from Texas to New Jersey and carries about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to the company’s website. The shutdown is particularly worrisome for Southeastern states, including North and South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia; they have fewer sources of fuel compared with states further up the Atlantic coast.

In Raleigh, N.C., area on Tuesday, cars were lined up 30 deep to access a dozen pumps at a BJ’s Wholesale Club. Lines three-cars long waited to fuel up at a Sheetz convenience store near Raleigh-Durham International Airport, one of the rare area stations that still had fuel.

Jackson Arnold visited two stations without luck before finding gas at Sheetz for his Jeep, which he said guzzles fuel on his 20-mile daily commute. “I guess it pays to have a Prius right now instead of a 12 mile-per-gallon truck,” Mr. Arnold said.

Gasoline demand Monday across the U.S. was up about 20% from a week earlier, according to data collected by price and fuel tracker GasBuddy. Across five Southeastern states, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, demand for gasoline jumped 40%, the figures showed.

Roughly 240 gas stations across Georgia, or about 3.8% of the state’s total, had run out of fuel by Tuesday morning, according to GasBuddy, which compiles the data when drivers report such outages. In Virginia, that figure was 7.5%. More than 5% of North Carolina gas stations were out of fuel and about 1.7% of the total in South Carolina.

“We’re seeing a gas run,” said

Patrick De Haan,

GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis. “Now we’re going to see more dramatic [impacts] as people run to the stations and run them dry.”

Roger Homan, a senior caregiver, said he went to four stations in the Raleigh-Durham area Tuesday morning seeking to fill up a car for a client. He said he called BJ’s Wholesale Club, where he typically gases up, and was told to hurry over. But by the time he arrived 15 minutes later, there was no gas.

“Every place I went, they had cones up so you couldn’t fill up,” Mr. Homan said.

A Colonial Pipeline facility in Woodbridge, N.J. The company said Monday that it hoped to substantially restore service by the end of the week.



Photo:

justin lane/Shutterstock

The disruptions come with the average U.S. price of regular unleaded gasoline already approaching $3 a gallon and a 6 ½-year high. Many Americans are expected to hit the road for Memorial Day weekend travel and summer vacations after receiving coronavirus vaccines, and higher pump prices could magnify pressure on millions of consumers who are already facing higher costs for everything from appliances to chicken.

The national average gasoline price Tuesday morning was up about 2 cents at $2.985 a gallon, according to AAA. In Georgia, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was up more than 11 cents from the previous day; and in North Carolina, it rose about 5 cents, AAA data showed.

The Southeast is particularly vulnerable because it has fewer refineries and pipelines to deliver fuel. It is also more difficult for the region to quickly import large quantities of gasoline from other countries.


‘It all shut down as soon as I put the nozzle back on the pump.’


— North Carolina resident John Bootsma

Frank Barnhill, a 58-year-old marketing professional living near Myrtle Beach, S.C., said gas stations in the area had long lines and began running out of fuel Monday evening. He had filled up early in the day and only needed a little bit at night, but now plans to limit his driving moving forward.

“There is high anxiety,” he said. “Today I have zero expectation that I will find gas so I’m not going searching for it…. It’s going to put a crimp in my schedule the next few days.”

The pipeline shutdown is also rippling through the aviation industry. Concerns about jet-fuel shortages have caused changes to two

American Airlines Inc.

long-haul flight routes out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a spokesman said. And

Southwest Airlines Co.

is bringing additional fuel to Nashville International Airport to supplement local supplies, according to a spokesman.

In Raleigh, John Bootsma got a text Monday night from his daughter telling he had better fuel up: “Here close to our house [in Charlotte, N.C.] there is no more gas.” He went to the nearest station around 10:45 p.m., but every tank was locked off. At the next station, he purchased $23 worth of gasoline, but he was the last person there able to do so.

“It all shut down as soon as I put the nozzle back on the pump,” said Mr. Bootsma. “The computer sign came up and said, ‘This pump has stopped pumping.’ The other pumps said the same thing.”

Mr. Bootsma, 55, who advises churches and pastors, had planned to drive with his wife nine to 10 hours to Florida this weekend to see family and friends, but now he isn’t sure he wants to risk getting stranded.

A gas station in Elizabethtown, N.C., on Monday. Gasoline demand is up significantly from a week earlier.



Photo:

Andrew Sherman/Bloomberg News

State and national officials have taken steps to ease fuel shortages in recent days. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Monday due to the pipeline outage, suspending fuel regulations in a bid to boost supplies. On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order temporarily suspending the state’s gas tax. He also said the state is increasing weight limits for trucks transporting fuel in a separate effort to increase supplies.

Also on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency waiver to ease some requirements for reformulated gasoline in the next week for Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The move came after the Biden administration issued an emergency waiver extending hours for truck drivers delivering fuel across 17 states, including several across the Southeast.

Ann Faircloth said she drove 200 miles from High Point in central North Carolina to Halifax in the state’s northeastern corner as part of her volunteer ministerial work. She said she had found stations out of gas throughout her route when she stopped to top off her tank. She bought $30 at the Sheetz in Morrisville, which she said she hoped would be enough to get her home.

Ms. Faircloth, 69, said the squeeze is sending prices higher than she budgeted for at $2.75 a gallon. “It’s really high now and that’s hard because I’m retired and on a fixed income.”

Write to Collin Eaton at collin.eaton@wsj.com, Amrith Ramkumar at amrith.ramkumar@wsj.com and Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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