CUMBERLAND — A cybersecurity attack last week on the Colonial Pipeline is causing a steady stream of customers at some local pumps, but officials say there is no shortage of gasoline.
The national average gas price hit $3 per gallon Wednesday for the first time since October 2014.
When the company became aware of the attack it preemptively shut down pipeline operations. The expected impacts of this shutdown vary for both supply and prices. The attack on the 5,500-mile pipeline that runs from Houston to New York comes at a time when fuel delivery is already tenuous across the country, due to a shortage of fuel tank delivery drivers. That shortage has been blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.
"While the pipeline shutdown is not the only factor pushing gas prices higher, it is definitely impacting gas prices on the East Coast," Ragina C. Ali, public and government affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, said. "Gas prices typically trend higher at this time of year, with the increase in demand heading into the Memorial Day holiday weekend and the busy summer driving season."
The average price of gas in Maryland was $2.94 Wednesday, 10 cents higher than last week and $1.07 more than this time last year. In Cumberland, the average price of gas jumped to $2.97 per gallon, 10 cents more than last week and $1.24 more than at this time last year.
"We know that even once (the Colonial Pipeline is) at full capacity, or fully operational, it will take anywhere from 15-18 days, so there could be a lingering impact as far as what we see at gas stations," Ali said. "It stands to reason that until the pipeline issue has been resolved and they get through the lingering period of getting things up and running again and once we get past the Memorial Day holiday, we'll expect increases."
According to the tracking website Gasbuddy.com, about 11% of Maryland gas stations were without fuel Wednesday afternoon.
"While there have been no major, widespread gasoline outages reported in Maryland, motorists are definitely seeing increases at the pump. We advise against carrying extra gasoline in your vehicle — it is dangerous and can prove deadly," Ali said. "We at AAA are very much discouraging (panic buying) because there is ample supply. Panic buying is never good. We saw it with the run on toilet paper, the run on water or snacks at the onset of the pandemic."
Sheetz said Wednesday the company has seen temporary fuel outages at some of its more than 600 stores.
"These shortages are not due to supply issues but are a result of extremely high demand causing stores to run out of fuel before the next scheduled delivery," Adam Sheetz, the company's executive vice president of operations, said. "At this time, Sheetz is delivering all grades of fuel regularly to all of our stores and are actively rerouting delivery trucks to locations experiencing the greatest need. Sheetz is not limiting purchases per customer and does not plan on putting limitations in place; however, we strongly encourage drivers to proceed as normal and avoid panic buying."
Gov. Larry Hogan authorized Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Greg Slater to take emergency measures in response to the Colonial Pipeline attack to ensure fuel supply continues throughout the state. Key to this was Slater issuing emergency waivers of weight restrictions and hours-of-service requirements put on Maryland motor carriers. The newfound flexibility is aimed at relieving supply pressures and to help address transit issues as supplies arrive from out of state.
"The emergency actions that we are taking will provide the state the flexibility it needs to address any disruption in fuel supply," Hogan said. "It is important for Marylanders to know that the supply chain is still working — albeit more slowly than usual — and there is no need for panic buying. While the operators of the pipeline anticipate that the disruption is likely to be short-term, we continue to prepare for all contingencies as part of our statewide response."
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday most of the state’s gasoline doesn’t come from the Colonial Pipeline.
"We basically are creating our own fuel shortage right now,” Justice said, referring to long lines at gas stations across the state.
About 4% of the state’s gas stations were without fuel Wednesday afternoon, according to Gasbuddy.com.