Gas prices spiked and drivers found “out of service” bags covering pumps in Charlotte and elsewhere in the South as a gas shortage rolled into the work week, raising fears that the scattered disruptions could spread.
Fuel supplies in at least five states – Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas – were threatened after a major pipeline in Alabama was found to be leaking as much as 336,000 gallons of gasoline. The pipeline serves an estimated 50 million people on the East Coast.
Colonial Pipeline said it was working “around the clock” to repair the break and supplies have either been delivered or are on their way to locations in the five states. The pipeline company has two main lines and said Monday that it is shipping “significant volumes” on the second of the two lines to limit the impact of the interruption on the other line.
Some stations across the Charlotte region reporting running out of gasoline, and others imposed fuel purchase limits.
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Haley Thomas, a cashier at the Marathon station on U.S. 321 in York, S.C., said her station has been overrun with customers. Thomas said her station ran out of gas Sunday night, received a new shipment early Monday morning and was already close to running out by 11 a.m.
“We’ve been running around like chickens with no heads for the past three days,” Thomas said. “They fill up cars, gas cans – anything they can fill up.”
Quik Trip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh confirmed there are shortages at some of its Charlotte-area stations. Until the supply issues are resolved, Thornbrugh said, the company will be selecting a certain number of stores in each of the four quadrants it operates and making sure they are fully stocked. That means that some others will run out of gas completely.
AAA Carolinas said Charlotte-area prices averaged $2.226 a gallon Tuesday, up 3 cents from Monday and up 19 cents from a week ago. In South Carolina, a gallon was selling for an average of $2.086. That’s an increase of almost 18 cents from last week.
In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory activated the state Emergency Operations Center and issued executive orders waiving trucking restrictions on fuel trucks to try to bolster supplies. The governor’s office warned motorists to be wary of price gouging and is asking state agencies to consider ways to limit fuel use, including curtailing nonessential travel for state employees.
More than 400 customers had reported price gouging at gas stations statewide as of Monday afternoon, the state Attorney General’s Office said. The Consumer Protection Division was investigating one sale at $5.89 and another topping $4 a gallon. If you think a station’s prices are too high, file a complaint with the state Department of Justice at nando.com/gouging.
Charlotte officials said they are monitoring fuel supply.
“City staff is working with operating departments to assess any possible impact to the city and will continue monitoring the situation as it develops,” communication officials for the city of Charlotte said in a statement released Monday.
Colonial Pipeline must conduct testing and analysis on the failed section of the pipeline, according to the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency, which is investigating the spill in rural Alabama.
Alpharetta, Ga.-based Colonial has acknowledged that between 252,000 gallons and 336,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from a pipeline near Helena, Ala., since the spill was first detected Sept. 9. It’s unclear when the spill actually began.
According to a preliminary report, it wasn’t possible to immediately pinpoint the leak, partly because highly flammable benzene and gasoline vapors hung in the air and prevented firefighters, company officials and anyone else from being near the site for more than three days.
State workers discovered the leak when they noticed a strong gasoline odor and sheen on a man-made retention pond, along with dead vegetation nearby, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in the report.
The report does not identify the cause of the leak, which is in a section of the pipeline constructed in 1963. The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is investigating the leak.
Colonial Pipeline said over the weekend that it was beginning construction of a temporary gasoline pipeline that will bypass the leaking section. Its statement Monday did not say when that temporary pipeline is expected to be running.
The Associated Press, the (Raleigh) News & Observer, the (Rock Hill) Herald, WBTV and Observer staff writer Katherine Peralta contributed.