FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, SCOTT SHENK
The fears of panic buying seem to have come to fruition as many gas stations ran dry in the Fredericksburg area and states impacted by the Colonial Pipeline outage.
Wednesday afternoon, stations packed with fueling cars a day earlier were empty. At least 17 stations in Spotsylvania County and about a dozen others in Stafford County were listed as out of gas on the GasBuddy app.
GasBuddy’s crowdsourced data showed 52 percent of Virginia stations had run out of gas by Wednesday evening. Of the states impacted by the pipeline outage, only North Carolina had more dry stations (69 percent) than Virginia.
The run on gas also led to a run on gas cans.
The Ace Hardware Store on Courthouse Road in Spotsylvania still had several plastic gas containers on its shelves Wednesday, but that was only because it had extras in stock.
Tuesday was busy for the store at the Courtland Commons shopping center, according to store manager Greg Hewitt.
“We had people calling for 5-gallon gas cans and coming in and cleaning out the five-gallon cans,” Hewitt said about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Those Ace customers might have made their way to the Valero station at the shopping center, where the pumps were closed and covered with plastic Wednesday.
The 5,500-mile pipeline was hit by a cyberattack on Friday night. The FBI said the ransomware attack was orchestrated by a Russia-based criminal group called DarkSide.
Colonial Pipeline said in a statement Wednesday evening that it had “initiated the restart of pipeline operations today at approximately 5 p.m.” The pipeline, which runs through Fredericksburg, transports more than half the gas for the East Coast.
The company cautioned that it would take “several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”
Rep. Abigail Spanberger sent a letter asking President Joe Biden to recognize the impact of the shutdown and develop a strategy for dealing with cyberattacks.
“Many gas stations across Virginia’s 7th District and its surrounding communities are experiencing the negative effects of this cyberattack and the ensuing pipeline shutdown,” she wrote. “This attack is having an immediate impact on Virginians who are commuting to work, dropping their children off at school, delivering supplies to small businesses and restaurants, and keeping our communities connected.”
The White House on Wednesday announced steps aimed at addressing the pipeline outage, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s waiver of its low volatility requirement for areas affected by the outage and the U.S. Department of Transportation allowing states with emergency declarations such as Virginia to transport overweight loads of gas and other fuels.
The White House also said in the news release that the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration has assessed the petroleum available in the Gulf should impacted states run low on fuel.
The pipeline outage has resulted in increased demand and prices for gas.
Patrick DeHaan, fuel analyst for GasBuddy, reported that gas demand in the U.S. increased 14.3 percent this Tuesday compared with the previous Tuesday.
In a CNBC interview, he blamed panic buying and hoarding for the gas shortage at stations and said it could exacerbate and prolong the problem.
Gas prices in Virginia rose 8 cents overnight and 11 cents in the past two days, pushing the average cost in Virginia to $2.87 per gallon, AAA reported Wednesday. The price of gas increased 9 cents overnight in Fredericksburg, edging the average price to $2.86.
The auto club pointed out that the national average price for a gallon of regular in the U.S. hit $3 for the first time since 2014.
AAA emphasized that there “is ample gasoline supply in the United States” and that people do not need to stock up.
The auto club also warned drivers not to store gas in containers in their cars.
“We advise against carrying extra gasoline in your vehicle—it is dangerous and can prove deadly,” said Morgan Dean, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson. “Consider filling up when you have a quarter of a tank of fuel remaining.”