MARIETTA — In the wake of a cyberattack that shut down a gas pipeline responsible for providing the U.S. East Coast with nearly half its fuel supply, some local motorists are showing up to gas stations to find rapidly rising prices, or, sometimes, stations that have run dry.
And transportation experts say Georgians can expect prices to keep rising, at least in the short term.
The past weekend’s cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline by a Russian group has already cut off fuel supply for four days, which has caused prices at the pump to rise and some motorists to panic.
Transportation service organization AAA forecasts gas prices will continue to climb this week in reaction to the shutdown of the pipeline, which delivers about 45% of all fuel to the East Coast. By Monday, some lateral lines had reopened, according to AAA, and the pipeline’s company said it was working to resume operations by the end of this week.
“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally. Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the east coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases, as early as this week,” said Montrae Waiters, spokeswoman for AAA-The Auto Club Group. “These states may see prices increase 3 to 7 cents this week.”
Concern has been evident through reports of motorists filling extra gas tanks and lining up at stations with gas. As the MDJ made trips to gas stations around Cobb on Tuesday, there was little evidence of hoarding, but shortages were apparent.
Edgardo Ifran delivers snacks and other inventory to gas stations around Kennesaw and north Cobb County. As he prepared to offload his delivery around 1 p.m. Tuesday at the BP gas station at the corner of Barrett Parkway and Cobb Place Boulevard, Ifran told the MDJ he’d been to nine gas stations in the area. Only two had gas, he said.
Ifran said he’d filled the truck he uses for deliveries the day prior — apparently just in time — but he worried about how long the apparent shortage would last. Without reliable fuel, he said, gesturing to the BP pumps covered with plastic bags, how will he be able to work?
“It’s hard,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cobb residents at the pump said they haven’t yet had to search very long for gas but are concerned that could be a reality soon.
South Cobb resident Thomas Mason and Canton resident Annette Hatt chatted through open windows under the shade of the fuel pump awnings at Racetrac on Church Street in Marietta, using the open pump stations as a parking lot. The pumps at that station, too, were covered with white and yellow bags, some reading “SORRY OUT OF SERVICE.”
Mason said seeing gas stations begin to run out of fuel worries him both for his personal transportation and for work. He said he works in patient transport, taking people without reliable transportation to doctors appointments.
“Luckily, I was able to fill up yesterday, so at this point, I’m good. I don’t know how tomorrow’s going to look, but for now I’m good,” he said, adding that he’s concerned about making sure there’s enough fuel for company vehicles in coming days to transport his clients. “I’ve just gotta hope and pray that we get this thing figured out.”
He estimated his company could manage for about a week still taking clients to their medical appointments, but after that, things could become dire for some, such as those on dialysis.
“That’s bad,” he said. “They have to go. That’s going to be a problem.”
For his personal use, Mason said he hopes his proximity to a refinery near his home means that when gas does become available, he’ll be able to get it quickly. In the meantime, he says, he’ll plan to drive much more conservatively.
At a Chevron at the corner of Cobb and North Marietta parkways, Tay Sewell filled his personal car with premium gas for $3.99 per gallon. Sewell said he’d watched prices rise drastically in just a matter of days.
The Austell resident said he makes deliveries for businesses around Marietta, and when he’d come to work that morning and headed to fill his van, he noticed the jump in price. He said his boss had caught wind of the impending shortage earlier than others might have and told all the drivers to head out and fill their tanks as soon as they could.
So, when he could slip away, Sewell headed to find a station with gas and fill up his sedan.
“I said, ‘Well, I gotta find somewhere I can pump before don’t nobody have no gas,’” he said.
He said he’d just come from a QuikTrip down the road that only had regular unleaded when he stopped in. When the numbers stopped climbing, Sewell’s total for 12 gallons came to $49.
Like Ifran, Sewell said he was concerned about what might happen to his ability to work if gas shortages were to continue for too long. Plus, he said, the higher prices to fill his personal car are already hurting his wallet.
“I’ve got a mouth to feed,” he said.
AAA reported on Monday that Georgia gas prices had already jumped six cents in the week after the ransomware attack on the pipeline.
Prices for regular unleaded gas at stations around Cobb that hadn’t run out Tuesday afternoon ranged from $2.69 to $3.29 per gallon, according to the Gas Buddy app and MDJ observation. And prices are likely to keep climbing, AAA says.
On Tuesday, AAA reported the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Georgia was $2.87. That’s up from the $2.76 reported Monday and $2.70 a week ago.
AAA said Monday it would cost $41.40 to fill a 15-gallon tank of gasoline — $4.50 more than what motorists paid in January of 2020, when pump prices hit their peak of $2.46 per gallon.
Also in response to the gas supply concerns, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Monday declaring a state of emergency and temporarily suspending the state’s gas tax.
“Due to the on-going effects of a temporary shutdown of a primary fuel pipeline, there exists an intermittent shortage of petroleum fuel in Georgia,” Kemp’s order reads. “The uninterrupted supply of transportation fuel is an essential need of the public and any perceived shortage threatens the public welfare.”
The order also waives restrictions on times of travel for commercial trucks carrying petroleum products, as well as length and weight restrictions for those transport vehicles.
The longer the Colonial Pipeline is offline, says AAA, the larger the impact on the East Coast. Other areas of the country are expected to see little impact.
And the pipeline shutdown couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for motorists looking to get away. AAA expects a “significant travel rebound” this Memorial Day, as compared to last year.
More than 37 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more between May 27 and May 31, according to the organization. That’s a 60% increase from last year, when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.
In Georgia, more than 1 million residents are forecast to take a trip during the holiday weekend, a 62% increase from last year, when fewer than 720,000 residents traveled, due to the pandemic.