The spike in gasoline prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey has hit the accelerator.
The average price of a gallon of unleaded gas in the Charlotte metro area was $2.55 on Friday, a 12-cent jump from Thursday and a 38-cent jump from a week ago, according to auto group AAA.
The national average gas price rose to its highest level of the year, $2.45 a gallon, on Thursday amid pipeline shutdowns and restricted access to the gas supply in the Gulf Coast, AAA said. By Friday, the national average price had climbed to $2.52.
The nationwide average was already higher than most experts had given as a worst-case scenario when flooding from the devastating storm began knocking out refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast a week ago.
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Two of the leading price-forecasting analysts, GasBuddy’s Patrick DeHaan and Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service, now see the national average peaking as high as $2.75 a gallon in the next few days.
Charlotte receives most of its gasoline from the Gulf Coast through pipelines operated by Colonial Pipeline Co. The company said late Thursday morning that its pipelines remain operational from Louisiana to the Northeast, but that “deliveries will be intermittent and dependent on terminal and refinery supply.”
To try to ease potential shortages, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order on Thursday, declaring a state of emergency that temporarily suspends vehicle size and weight restrictions for trucks carrying gasoline and waives limits on the number of hours drivers of those trucks can be on the road. On Wednesday, Cooper asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to waive certain federal regulations on the formulas for gasoline to try to boost supplies in the state, and those were granted the same day.
The state law against price gouging also went into effect. The law defines gouging as “a price that is unreasonably excessive under the circumstances,” and state Attorney General Josh Stein urged people to report “suspiciously high” gas prices by calling 877-566-7226 or filing a complaint at www.ncdoj.gov.
Many stations in the Dallas area were out of gas Friday, and those that had it were often charging more than $3 a gallon – and drawing long lines of desperate drivers.
The analysts said interruptions in supply were isolated and lines were largely the result of people rushing out to top off their tanks. DeHaan said only one rack, or wholesale gasoline terminal, out of the six in the Dallas area was dry.
“There is enough gas out there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting it to the right places before motorists panic.”
Long lines could pop up next in the Southeastern and Eastern states, as far north as New York, which get much of their gasoline from the Colonial pipeline that taps into refineries in Texas and Louisiana. The operator doesn’t expect the pipeline to resume normal operations until Sunday. On top of that, analysts said some gasoline from the Northeast is being diverted to Florida, and gasoline exports are contributing to the higher prices.
How long this lasts will depend on how quickly the Gulf Coast refineries are back in business, especially the giants like Motiva’s Port Arthur, Texas, plant and the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, near Houston.
One Chevron station in downtown Dallas that was selling regular for $2.29 a gallon before Harvey bumped up its price to $2.99 on Thursday, and a nearby Shell station was asking $3.97.
QuikTrip, one of the nation’s largest convenience store chains, temporarily halted gasoline sales at about half its 135 stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to send the fuel to a few designated stores across the area, said company spokesman Mike Thornbrugh.
Observer staff writer Katherine Peralta and the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.