OCEAN CITY — The closing of a major gasoline pipeline from Texas to New Jersey sparked fears of fuel shortages and panic buying this week, but the situation appears to be somewhat overblown and delivery to local stations should soon be restored.
The Colonial Pipeline, which services much of the east coast, last week suffered a cyberattack, forcing its temporary closure. Hackers demanded millions of dollars in ransom money, which the company refused to pay, and instead sought relief from federal and state agencies. Colonial Pipeline officials on Wednesday issued a statement that the pipeline should be reopened by Friday.
“Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” the statement reads. “Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period. Colonial will move as much gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as is safely possible and continue to do so until markets return to normal.”
News of the pipeline’s closure this week sparked a rise in gas prices at the pump and raised concerns about a pending gas shortage. Anecdotally, there were isolated cases of panic buying and hoarding in advance of a pending shortage, akin to the toilet paper shortage at the outset of the pandemic last year, but locally, there was little evidence of a panic. During a press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan allayed concerns about a pending gas shortage.
“There is no need for panic buying,” he said. “In fact, that would make the situation worse. Our team continues to monitor this incident and we will keep Marylanders informed of any new developments.”
Hogan did acknowledge there were some stations in Maryland that were out of gas, or at least out of certain grades of gas, but said the impact was minimal.
“We have about 4% of our stations running out of gas, which is better than most states that are impacted,” he said. “I think Georgia is at 19%, which is 500% worse. We do have a few stations that are out of gas, primarily because of people filling up their tanks and filling up gas cans because they were under the false impression that everybody was running out of gas. We’re in a much better position for a lot of reasons. The port of Baltimore brings in a lot of petroleum and it’s not effected by the pipeline.”
The Colonial Pipeline situation this week harkened back to a time in the late 1970s when late Mayor Harry Kelley took bold steps to ease concerns for visitors about the gas shortage. When an Arab oil embargo threatened Ocean City tourism, Kelley launched the famous “half a tank away” marketing campaign and purchased 41,000 gallons of gasoline from the city’s coffers and assured visitors if they came on vacation, the city would assure they would have gas to get home. The town ultimately sold the gas at 50 cents cheaper than what it was purchased for, but the campaign resulted in one of the resort’s best seasons ever at the time.
Ocean City Communications and Marketing Director Jessica Waters said on Thursday no such bold action was required with the current pipeline situation.
“Governor Hogan stated yesterday that the supply chain is moving and folks are advised that there is no need for panic buying or hoarding of gas,” she said. “Ocean City is very much open and welcoming visitors to our beach town for beautiful weather all weekend. We are not currently experiencing a gas shortage and, thankfully, we’re only a half a tank of gas away from many nearby cities. When you’re here, we’re very much a walkable destination with great public transportation that makes it easy to get around Ocean City.”
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said her organization was keeping an eye on the situation, but there was no need to panic.
“We did briefly chat at our board meeting this morning about this topic,” she said. “While there have been a handful of cancellations, I think the weather forecast and the pipeline reopening will push people here.”
AAA-Mid-Atlantic Public and Government Affairs Manager Ragina Ali did report on Thursday gas prices at the pump rose seven cents per gallon overnight Wednesday, topping $3 for the first time in seven years. The average price per gallon in Maryland on Thursday as $3.01 compared to $2.94 on Wednesday and $2.84 a week ago. Incidentally, the average price one year ago was $1.88. Ali said restarting the Colonial Pipeline should ease the situation, but it might take a little time.
“The restart of the pipeline is very positive news for motorists,” she said. “While an immediate impact won’t be seen and motorists in affected areas can expect to see a few more days of limited fuel supply, relief is coming. Station pumps will be full of fuel in several days. This is especially encouraging news ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.”