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Cooper declares state of emergency to allow gasoline to travel quickly through NC

Posted August 31

— Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday declared a state of emergency in order to allow gasoline to move into and through North Carolina amid delivery problems caused by Hurricane Harvey.

The executive order, signed Thursday afternoon, will temporarily waive the cap on the maximum hours of service restrictions for fuel vehicles traveling in and through North Carolina to help maintain gas supplies.

"Hurricane Harvey's damage to refineries in Texas and Louisiana could ripple throughout the southeast, causing gasoline shortages and rising prices," Cooper said. "I'm taking action to make it easier to get gasoline into our state so North Carolinians who need gas can get it."

The Colonial Pipeline provides nearly 40 percent of the South's gasoline. It runs underground and is now under water in many parts of Texas, where inspections are needed before it can be fully operational again, Colonial spokesman Steve Baker said Thursday.

The operator of the major gasoline pipeline estimates it can resume carrying fuel in the Houston area by Sunday, potentially avoiding a lengthy shutdown that would intensify gasoline shortages.

The Georgia-based company remains able to operate its pipeline from Louisiana to states east and northeast of there, though deliveries will be "intermittent," the company said.

Huge challenges remain for the nation's system of getting gasoline to the pumps of service stations, since Hurricane Harvey forced the shutdown of at least eight Texas refineries, according to AAA.

Fuel Tracker: Find lowest local gas prices

Pump prices have surged — the average for a gallon of regular gasoline rose from about $2.35 a week ago to $2.45 now, AAA reported. The price spike is more dramatic in some states such as Georgia, where the average cost per gallon of regular gas has climbed from $2.22 a week ago to $2.39 now.

Bobby Melvin, a retired truck driver who is very familiar with the gas pipeline connection between Houston and North Carolina, stopped to fill his tank in Fayetteville before prices climb even higher.

"I know the refinery is back down over there and our main source is coming from that way. I really wish that we would have someplace else where we could get some rather than from all the way over there. It's a long way," Melvin said.

Melvin said it typically costs about $50 to fill up his pick-up truck, but it cost about $10 more on Thursday because of the price hike.

"It hurts my bottom line, but we have to have it," he said.

Around the Triangle, gas prices were as high as $2.55 and AAA spokeswoman Sandra Horton said the price hike could affect families thinking about hitting the road for Labor Day weekend.

"It would impact many of them. That's quite a bit of an increase for someone who might be planning their last weekend getaway for the holiday, the last weekend of summer," she said. "Many may not be able to go with that increase. They didn't budget it, it's not something they put in their budget already, so I can see that really impacting a lot of them."

Cooper on Thursday sign an executive order, putting price gouging laws into effect, The law will remain in effect for 45 days, according to the Attorney General's Office.

"If you see suspiciously high gas prices, it could mean that gas stations are taking advantage of their customers," said Attorney General Josh Stein in a statement. "My top priority is protecting North Carolinians- including their wallets. Taking advantage of people during a weather crisis would be unacceptable, and I will hold any offenders accountable."

North Carolinians who see potential price gouging are urged to report it to the Attorney General's Office at NCDOJ.gov.

Nearly one-third of the nation's refining capacity is along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi, Texas, to the Lake Charles, Louisiana area, and about one-quarter of the Gulf Coast's oil refining capacity was taken offline, according to the Oil Price Information Service.

The supply crunch is already being felt in Dallas-Fort Worth, where QuikTrip, one of the nation's largest convenience store chains, is temporarily halting gasoline sales at about half of its 135 stores in the area.

The company is instead directing gasoline deliveries to designated stores across all parts of the metro area, QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said. And while only half the Dallas-Forth Worth area stores will have gasoline, all will remain open, he said.

"Supply is way, way off," Thornbrugh said Thursday.

Patrick DeHaan, an analyst with GasBuddy.com, said he's heard reports that drivers in the Dallas area were jamming gas stations Thursday, filling up not only their cars and trucks but also gas cans and containers.

"That's going to make the problem worse, and prices shoot higher and the event will last longer, with more disruption and shortages," DeHaan said.

His advice: "Try to have a sense of calm."

Oklahoma-based QuikTrip diverted gasoline deliveries to its store in a similar way last year in metro Atlanta, where it has about 133 stores, after the Alabama pipeline spill.

AAA on Thursday warned people not to stop just to top off their gas tanks, as that will create long lines and an artificial shortage, but the warning didn't stop North Carolinians from heading to the pump.

"I knew that it was going up. I figured that I didn't know whether they were going to run out of gas or not, so I decided to come on," said Fayetteville resident Constance Terry.

Fayetteville Resident Robin Hebl said she isn't worried and doesn't believe the potential gas crisis is going to impact prices at the pump for long.

"Texas is going to recover, the pipeline will get fixed and gas prices will stabilize. Once again, it's typical with the economy. Things go up and down and fluctuate based on natural disasters," Hebl said.

The Colonial Pipeline, a crucial artery in the nation's fuel supply network, runs from the Houston area to New York harbor and includes more than 5,500 miles of pipeline, most of it underground. It closed in September 2016 after a leak and gas spill in Alabama, leading to days of empty gas station pumps and higher prices in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

8 Comments

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  • Cherrie Fausnaught Sep 1, 12:51 p.m.
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    Because everyone buys milk and bread when there is an emergency such as hurricane or winter storm.

  • Skye Thompson Sep 1, 8:33 a.m.
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    I've only been driving for half as long as you have but I agree! It's the same pattern of greed!

  • David Fleenor Aug 31, 11:36 p.m.
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    What's a milk sandwich...

  • Norman Lewis Aug 31, 11:09 p.m.
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    From what I have heard, only maybe 10% of refining capacity is affected. We have a large supply of refined gasoline already in storage and available for distribution and the reduction in refining capacity is expected to be very short lived and the pump price is jumping immediately. The cost of the gas already in the underground tanks at the gas station did not change. I could understand an increase in pump prices when the distributor starts charging the retailer
    more per gallon but an immediate change sounds like profiteering at the expense of the public to me. Any incident like this is only an excuse for the gas companies and retailers, to jack up prices instantly and lower prices very slowly over weeks even though the nominal excuse for raising prices may have ended almost as quickly as it started. I have been driving for over 40 years and have seen the same pattern for decades.

  • Allison Blanchard Aug 31, 10:48 p.m.
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    Stoooooop. You're going to make the middle age people buy gasoline like they buy milk samdwiches. Christ almighty.

  • Eric Rothman Aug 31, 6:13 p.m.
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    Now people will run out to the pumps to Top Off there tanks exactly against what you are told not to do!

  • Skye Thompson Aug 31, 5:24 p.m.
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    Yes, but there are exceptions. If a governor declares a State of Emergency, for example, then the cap on hours of service is waived. the law stipulates that "Even though safety regulations may be suspended, drivers and carriers are expected to use good judgment and not operate vehicles with fatigued or ill drivers, or under any conditions presenting a clear hazard to other motorists using the highways states have done the same." You can learn more at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/emergency

  • John Smith Aug 31, 4:56 p.m.
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    I guess I understand the intentions, but I thought max hours behind the wheel was a Federal mandate? Personally, I can't do more than 6 behind the wheel without feeling the affects...but I'm not pulling 90,000lbs. Do you really want a gasoline tanker rolling down 85 or 95 with the driver on fumes physically/mentally?