Key US gasoline pipeline aims to carry more fuel by Sunday; Cooper urges caution

Cars wait in line at the Costco on Six Forks and Wake Forest roads in Raleigh. (Ed Trauschke/CBS North Carolina)

ATLANTA (AP/WNCN) — The operator of a 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.

Gov. Roy Cooper said gas shortages and higher gas prices should be expected.

“This will impact us. We’ve seen it before,” Cooper said. “This is something that is critical. When you have a situation like this the problems go all up and down the pipeline. We’ve seen this happen before with problems with Katrina.”

Shortly after 4 p.m., his office announced he was declaring a state of emergency in order to temporarily waive restrictions on trucks hauling fuel to North Carolina.

“I’m taking action to make it easier to get gasoline into our state so North Carolinians who need gas can get it,” Cooper said.

Cooper also signed an executive order on Thursday declaring an “abnormal market disruption for gasoline,” putting the state’s anti-price-gouging law into effect for the next 45 days.

The law prevents sellers from charging prices that are “unreasonably excessive.” However, the law doesn’t specify what precisely that means.

CBS North Carolina asked Kevin Anderson, the director of the consumer protection division of the NC Attorney General’s Office, about that law.

He said when the office receives a complaint about price gouging, investigators will look at the average price in the 60 days preceding a state of emergency. Additionally, they’ll consider additional costs imposed by the seller’s supplier and fluctuations in the marketplace.

Anderson encouraged drivers who notice something unusual to report it.

“They don’t have to make that determination themselves. If they feel like they’re being charged a price that’s really out of whack under the circumstances, they should feel free to let us know and we’ll take a hard look at it,” he said.

During last year’s gas shortage, the attorney general’s office received about 1,500 complaints of price gouging. The office issued subpoenas to nine gas stations and one wholesaler.

You can contact the attorney general’s office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing a complaint at the link below.

File a price gouging complaint

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 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.

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.

The owner of North Hills Exxon and Glenwood Village Exxon wanted to do something to help those affected by the Gulf Coast flooding. Mike Barker said he decided to donate 3 cents from every gallon he sold to the Red Cross for Harvey relief.

He said the relief effort was his way of giving back to those who need help. But, Barker says if the gas supply dries up, he’ll have to cancel the donation program.

“I hope to do it as long as I can, but with supply stopping I may have to shut it down,” said Barker. “If I had to guess it’ll be Saturday, but I’ll run it as long as I can.”

The programs already raised a little more than $900 dollars from gasoline sales. Barker said Paragon Bank, a local financial institution, has pledged another $500 dollars to the gas station’s fund raising efforts.

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.

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

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.

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