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Panic Buying Causes Gas Shortage In WNC

Catherine Komp/BPR News
Several gas stations on Brevard Road in Asheville ran out of fuel yesterday.

Gas stations across Western North Carolina are feeling a crunch after the Colonial Pipeline shutdown because of a cyber-attack. In Asheville, long lines outside of gas stations spilled onto Merrimon avenue and other city streets on Monday. By Tuesday morning, many of those gas stations were out of fuel.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order on Monday and spoke with US Department of Energy officials today about the impacts of the cyber-attack on the Colonial Pipeline.

"I have talked today with federal officials including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and we have a full court press to get the Colonial Pipeline back up and fully operating quickly. Report price gouging and please don't rush to top off your tanks,” said Cooper.

Department of Energy Officials said the State of Emergency made it easier to transport fuel supply in North Carolina.

According to a read out of Cooper’s conversation with federal officials, “while North and South Carolina, along with Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia are expected to be most impacted by the pipeline shutdown, significant fuel supply shortages are not expected and normal operations are anticipated to restart in the coming days.”

Federal and state officials are urging the public not to panic buy gasoline. Tiffany Wright, AAA spokesperson, agreed. Wright explained that panic buying is the main cause of the shortage. 

“I am surprised to see some of the shortages that we're seeing - because our supply was so ample, before this. But I think a big reason for that is because of all of the over-consuming at the pump, all of the panic buying,” said Wright. “We're seeing a lot of that and that unfortunately is leading to some shortages that we're seeing across the Carolinas.” 

Wright said that tourist areas like the mountains and the coast are seeing more shortages in North Carolina as travelers stock up on fuel in order to make the trip home.

Several dozen cars wait in line Tuesday evening for gas on Brevard Road in Asheville.
Credit Catherine Komp/BPR News
Several dozen cars wait in line Tuesday evening for gas on Brevard Road in Asheville.

On Brevard Road near Asheville Outlets, two gas stations were deserted with “Out of Service” signs and plastic bags over the pumps. Down the street at Hot Spot, a few dozen cars waited in line. Asheville resident Nick Bragg pulled up with one bar left on his gas gauge. 

“I’m almost on empty,” said Bragg. “I thought about filling up my container for my lawn mower but that would seem immoral. So I’m just getting a couple gallons to get me through the next week. I don’t really need to drive [because I work from home], but I need to at least go to the store.”

Gary Richie waited in line for about 20 minutes before reaching the pump. He’s retired, but still works a couple days a week as a truck driver. “I got to have something today, or I won’t make it back [to work] tomorrow,” said Richie. “I went through the gas shortage back in the 70s when I was in high school. I went through one of them already, and it was a lot worse than this.”

Before the Colonial pipeline cyber attack, gas prices in the Carolinas were already rising over the week, according to AAA Carolinas. In North Carolina, there was an average increase of six-cents a gallon and up by seven-cents in South Carolina. AAA forecasts gas prices will climb even more this week in reaction to the shutdown.

Despite the rise in prices, both states are still a part of the nation’s top 10 least expensive markets. 

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
Catherine Komp joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in September 2020 as the organization’s first Director of Content, leading BPR’s talented team of local journalists and content creators, overseeing national programming and facilitating collaborations and engagement initiatives.