LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents looking to keep their cars fed may have a tough time this week as a damaged pipeline in Alabama has North Carolina’s gasoline supply drying up and prices rising.
With the Colonial Pipeline damaged, the supply of gasoline throughout the Southeastern United States has been interrupted. The pipeline, which runs from Houston to New York, has spilled more than 250,000 gallons since the leak was discovered on Sept. 9. The shutdown for repairs is causing delays in the arrival of fuel trucks, though Colonial says that deliveries are on their way.
“We are out in our locations,” Bucky Miller, who purchases gas for four local stations, said Monday. “I was told yesterday that the terminals in Fayetteville, Greensboro and Wilmington would be out for two more weeks.”
The effects of the leak were evident throughout Lumberton Tuesday morning. Many gas stations had bags or “Out of Order” signs on some or all of their pumps. Other gas stations were limiting the amount of fuel each customer could purchase, and some had signs stating that they were out of regular.
With the supply short and demand the same, prices rose quickly throughout the Southeast. Before the weekend, the average gallon of gasoline was $2.05, according to AAA Carolinas. The average on Monday, throughout the state, was $2.16. While most gas station prices in Lumberton jumped over the weekend, they stayed steady at around $2.20 a gallon on Tuesday.
Colonial Pipeline Company remained buoyant Monday, hopeful that the interruption to supply would be minimal.
“In an effort to minimize supply disruptions, last week Colonial Pipeline gathered gasoline from Gulf Coast refiners in order to ship supplies on its distillate line to markets throughout the affected region,” a statement read. “… As a result, following around-the-clock operations to effect this contingency plan, supplies of gasoline have been delivered and/or are in route to terminal locations in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.”
As of Monday morning, more than 400 consumers had filed complaints online or via a toll-free hotline to report potential gasoline price gouging to Attorney General Roy Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division.
Price gouging — or over-charging in times of crisis — is against North Carolina law when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared or proclaimed by the governor. The law applies to all levels of the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.
Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley said investigators are checking reports of gasoline being sold at $5.89 a gallon and another offered at more than $4 a gallon. Violators can be fined up to $5,000.
Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday activated North Carolina’s State Emergency Response Team to coordinate with counties regarding fuel needs.
“Based on our ongoing updates from Colonial, the construction of a bypass pipeline is moving forward which will soon allow fuel supply operations to return to normal,” McCrory said. “In the meantime my executive orders remain in effect to protect motorists from excessive gas prices and minimize any interruption in the supply of fuel.”
McCrory was briefed by state energy and emergency officials Tuesday and discussed short-term conservation measures until normal fuel flows are completely restored. The governor said the state’s first priority continues to be ensuring that adequate fuel is available for first responders and emergency officials.
He said that he has instructed state agencies to consider options to limit fuel use, including curtailing non-essential travel for state employees.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatly. The Associated Press contributed to this report.