The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it has eased fuel-transportation regulations in 10 states, including Mississippi, to head off gasoline supply issues caused by the shutdown of the Colonial pipeline, which delivers 45 percent of the gasoline to much of the eastern United States.
But the best weapon to prevent gas shortages may come from customers themselves, said Matt Bogue, vice president of local distributor Dutch Oil.
“Without a doubt the fuel supply chain is tighter, but it is not, like some media reports say, a fuel shortage,” Bogue said. “It’s people panicking who are causing the problem. The thing people should know is that if you need fuel, it will be available.”
The DOT said it has given fuel distributors a 120-day reprieve on load limits and driving hour restrictions to help companies make up for the interruption of the pipeline’s network, which closed Sunday after a ransomware cyber-attack.
Colonial released a statement Tuesday that it was bringing its network back online in stages and has resumed delivery to areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and New Jersey after returning one of its pipelines to service.
Bogue said that easing restriction of truck transportation of fuel should go a long way in meeting demand for fuel.
“I think one of the big things is lifting limits on driving hours,” Bogue said. “If you’re waiting at the terminal to pick up a tanker of gas, a driver may have to wait four hours in line. Those hours are normally considered driving hours, which are limited. Now that those restrictions have been lifted, drivers can stay on the road and do what needs to be done until the situation with Colonial is fixed.”
Bogue said there are numerous other sources for fuel outside of Colonial — including wholesale sources in Aberdeen, Tuscaloosa and Memphis.
Bogue said consumers should continue their normal approach to buying fuel.
“The best reaction for people is to continue to purchase fuel if you need it, but stick to your normal routine,” he said. “Fill up your car, but don’t fill up every 5-gallon gas can you have. It’s not necessary. Even as stores run out of fuel, there are trucks on the way. A store may be out of gas temporarily, but somebody’s going to have fuel near where you are.”
Don Redman of the American Automobile Association said that he expects only sporadic gas shortages and, as Bogue noted, those shortages will be the result of panic buying.
“There is no shortage of fuel,” Redman said. “There’s plenty of fuel. What we have is a distribution issue.”
Redman estimated that while Colonial reopens pipelines, gas prices in the region will continue to go up.
“(Monday night), the price went up by a nickel,” said Redman, who said the average price for a gallon of gas in Mississippi on Tuesday was $2.64. “I’d say things will be back to normal in two to three weeks and gas prices will continue to rise, but I don’t think it will be a big jump. I’d say it would be in the 10-cent range.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]