Current Gas Shortages Are Not Simply Due To “Panic Buying”

What happens when the resources you have relied upon as always being available are suddenly diminished or even eliminated? Those who are low on resources must scramble to replenish their supplies. If 2020 taught us anything, Lysol wipes and Charmin toilet paper are not always going to be abundant throughout the land of milk and honey.  And so, it seems is the case with the lifeblood of our liberty, gasoline. A hack on our eastern seaboard’s gas pipeline supply chain has gripped much of the southeastern portions of the United States in a fuel freeze.

From the Daily Mail,

Gas stations from Florida to Virginia have closed their pumps and a state of emergency has been declared by the governor of North Carolina after Colonial Pipeline was forced to shut off the nation’s biggest fuel pipeline when it was hacked. The FBI has confirmed that DarkSide, a Russian hacking outfit made up of ransomware veterans, was responsible for the attack on Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New Jersey and transports 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supply. The 5,500 pipeline shut down five days ago and services are only gradually being restored now. Colonial, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, has not yet said whether it has already paid or is negotiating a ransom with the hackers. Colonial said it was working to ‘substantially’ resume operations by the end of this week but reports of gas shortages are already emerging up and down the East Coast as motorists were spotted lining up in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. 

Meanwhile, at least 24 other companies across a range of industries were also reportedly affected by the ransomware attack and Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, called for military strikes to kill those involved in an ‘act of war’ against America. The pipeline supplies nearly half of all the East Coast’s fuel needs, including Atlanta’s airport – the world’s busiest, by passenger traffic. The pipeline also serves 90 U.S. military installations and 26 oil refineries.  As the shutdown entered its fifth day, it emerged that American Airlines was adding stops to two of its long-haul flights from its Charlotte, North Carolina hub as a likely effort to conserve fuel in areas where it could run short, CNBC reports.

Motorists were also beginning to report shortages at gas stations. A spokesman for Race Trac, which operates gas stations in the Atlanta area, confirmed the shortage to WSBTV-2. At least two gas stations in Tallahassee, Florida, were completely out of stock, according to Bloomberg. Patrick de Haan, an energy expert who runs the monitoring site Gas Buddy Tracker, said his sources showed five per cent of stations in Virginia running empty. His recommendation to motorists: ‘Conserve, conserve, conserve.’ 

The lack of supply could soon hit users across the country in the pocketbook. The American Automobile Association is predicting that gas prices will only surge as a result of the shutdown after the national gas price average jumped six cents to $2.98 in a week. An increase of three more cents would make the national average the most expensive since November 2014. AAA is predicting that gasoline prices could rise three to seven cents per gallon this week and said that there also could be ‘limited fuel availability’ in places. ‘This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and price, but the impact will vary regionally,’ an AAA spokesperson said.’ Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and prices increases as early as this week. ‘These states may see prices increase three to seven cents this week.’ 

With supply dwindling, the outcry of blame grew. Unfortunately, it was directed at all the wrong individuals by those who were most likely not effected by the chaos. The accusations of “panic buying” were tossed around as condemnation of those reacting when the resources began to fizzle out. But it was not simply “Panic Buying” that was the culprit to this explosion of demand. There were some who decided to purchase gas canisters as a backup to have on hand. But often, it was simply not being prepared which led to the scramble and run on the pumps. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it shouldn’t be normal to have backup containers on hand that are topped off with gasoline. Refined fuel has a short shelf life and can expire before being utilized in the next shortage.  

But I think there are some shoes of personal experiences that should be stepped into when analyzing this crisis. When your wife is running on less than a 1/8th of a tank of gas, and suddenly gas stations are running out, you must find a gas station to fill up. You do not wait around to alleviate hyper demand. You get in your car and wait in line to fill up. You take measures to make it happen. If you were to multiply that phenomenon by the multitude of people in a similar situation, you can surmise that this was not simple panic buying. All these pearls clutching, armchair quarterbacks out there who are saying, “well, if you didn’t panic buy there wouldn’t be a shortage” are not taking certain factors into account. Some have equivocated it to living in a hurricane area. The problem is many of these states deal with Hurricane’s on a regular basis too. The hurricane scenario is easy to prepare for as the storm is basically telegraphed in advance. And that situation is very temporary, compared to what is going on with hacking a pipeline company.

If anything, we naively assumed that the gasoline supply was always going to be maintained and available. So, as a result, as we drove our cars down to “E”. We naturally assumed we would be able to pull into a gas station and fill up without the threat of limited resources. But any supply chain disruption is going to cause this reaction. Having protection measures against the hacking of vital industries, as well as keeping energy options available is key. Eliminating vital options under the guise of protecting the planet from a 1% increase in climate temperatures over the next 100 years is a shortsighted overreaction. Discontinuing critical options, such as the Keystone XL pipeline by executive order because of some uncorroborated impact on the climate of the earth has more of an impact on our gasoline supply than flooding a gas station to top tanks off because we are driving on fumes.

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