Gas expert warns drivers to not panic as Grand Strand stations see shortages

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 11:22 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF/AP) – Several gas stations along the Grand Strand are drying up as the Carolinas feel the impact of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown.

On Friday, the Colonial Pipeline system reported a ransomware cyberattack which resulted in the temporary shutdown of that line. The Colonial Pipeline is a primary fuel pipeline for the Carolinas.

RELATED COVERAGE | FBI names pipeline cyberattackers as company promises return

The FBI said the breach was done by a gang of criminal hackers named DarkSide. The group’s members are Russian speakers, and the syndicate’s malware is coded not to attack networks using Russian-language keyboards.

The Colonial Pipeline
The Colonial Pipeline(AAA)

Parts of the Grand Strand are already feeling the impact of the shutdown. Many places are seeing a rise in gas prices, but viewers have told WMBF News that gas stations along Highway 9 in Cherry Grove are out of gas.

WMBF News spoke to Boulineau’s Express on Highway 9 where a clerk told us that they’ve been out of gas since 1 p.m. Monday. Meanwhile, a WMBF News crew saw plastic bags covering the pumps at a Shell gas station off Highway 9.

But despite this shortage, gas experts are telling drivers to not panic, stating that it could make matters worse if people rush to the gas pumps.

Patrick Dehaan, the head of petroleum analytics at Gas Buddy, an app that monitors gas prices, said demand was down 60% during the pandemic. But that has come all the way back up as more people start traveling again and that has brought a rise in prices.

But over the past few days, Gas Buddy has been tracking stations running out of gas.

“Tens of millions of gallons of fuel are not getting where they need to go. As a result, you’re starting to see some stations struggling with supply,” Dehaan explained.

He said the reason is that “tank farms,” which are massive storage areas the Colonial Pipeline feeds into, are drying up.

Dehaan said that some of the biggest impacts in the Carolinas will be felt inland because gas can still come into the coast through the ports.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed the executive order on Monday declaring a state of emergency due to the pipeline shutdown. It suspends motor vehicle fuel regulations to ensure there is adequate fuel supply throughout the state.

“Today’s emergency declaration will help North Carolina prepare for any potential motor vehicle fuel supply interruptions across the state and ensure motorists are able to have access to fuel,” Cooper said.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster’s office explained that since the state is currently in a state of emergency due to the state’s ongoing response to the pandemic, any waivers that would be needed to deal with the Colonial Pipeline are already in place.

“Our office is in constant communication with the Office of Regulatory Staff and if any additional actions are needed, the governor will take them,” explained spokesperson Brian Symmes.

Colonial Pipeline said it hopes to have services mostly restored by Friday. Dehaan said gas stations should start to fuel up early next week. But if people bleed them dry, he said the problem could last two to three weeks in some areas.

“Start conserving. Let the first responders fill up if they need it, try to limit how much you’re fueling up. If you don’t absolutely need to drive, don’t do it,” Dehaan said.

Gas Buddy has activated its emergency fuel tracker it typically saves for hurricane season so that people can report stations that do or don’t have gas. That way people who need to drive know where to fill up.

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