Already a source of panic for some, fuel shortages could persist for the next week in Sampson County, according to some local gas and oil personnel and Sampson County officials.
Stations across Clinton and Sampson were packed Monday as news of a busted pipeline in Alabama gained traction in the Carolinas with word of dwindling supplies and rising prices that could accompany that event. Pumps were covered and notes stuck to the screens at Murphy USA on Sunset Avenue in Clinton on Monday, informing motorists they were out of gas. Other stations, including Han-Dee Hugo stations along U.S. 701 Business, were also out or reporting diminishing supplies.
Colonial Pipeline officials announced Saturday they were beginning construction of a temporary pipeline that will bypass a leaking section of its main gasoline pipeline in Shelby County, Ala. Company officials said Saturday that the line was projected to restart the following week. The company has acknowledged that between 252,000 gallons and 336,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from a pipeline near Helena, Ala., since the spill was first detected Sept. 9.
Fuel supplies in at least five states — Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina — were threatened by the spill, and the U.S. Department of Transportation ordered the company responsible, Colonial Pipeline, to take corrective action before the fuel starts flowing again.
The pipeline originates in Houston, Texas, and ends at Linden, N.J., traveling through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Branches from the main pipeline also reach Tennessee.
On Sunday, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials said they were continuing to work with fuel suppliers “to monitor and quickly replenish fuel supplies,” including getting updates from Colonial.
“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 stated Sunday, noting that bypass should be in place by mid to late week.
Upon completion of the bypass, it will take a day to test and get the line back in operation. The company has also been able to use another line to offset the shortage due to the line with the leak.
“In the meantime,” McCrory stated, “my executive orders remain in effect to protect motorists from excessive gas prices and minimize any interruptions in the supply of fuel.”
On Thursday, McCrory issued an executive order temporarily waiving hours of service restrictions for fuel vehicles traveling in and through the state in order to prevent disruptions and backups at major fuel distribution hubs. Friday, the governor issued a second executive order that waives additional trucking restrictions and protects consumers from price gouging at the fuel pumps. Both executive orders remain in place for 30 days or until they are canceled.
While there are pockets of service stations that have experienced temporary shortages, many have received supplies and others have them scheduled for early this week, the governor said. He directed Emergency Management officials to stay in contact with local officials should they have any requests for assistance.
Local government officials have been keeping a close eye on the situation, and that monitoring is being magnified this week.
“We have begun to more closely monitor the situation today,” Assistant county manager and public information officer Susan Holder said Monday. “I have talked with staff at our Sheriff’s Department., EMS and Sampson Area Transportation. Typically, our vehicles are fueled through Sampson-Bladen, and as of (Monday afternoon), they had not notified those departments of any issues.”
EMS Director Ronald Bass said the state requested EMS personnel give daily reports on any gas stations that are out of fuel in their communities.
“Our staff will canvass on their way into work. There have been some stations reporting outages on the western side of town today. We are keeping our emergency vehicles fueled, and should we experience difficulty in obtaining fuel, we would work through the state to request resources,” Bass stated.
Those resources would likely come in the form of a tanker truck, if necessary. County officials said EMS may delay non-essential trips — any fire inspections which are not time-sensitive and other routine check-ups or maintenance.
“We have received an estimate that fuel shortages may persist for the next eight days,” Bass stated.
Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Pope noted that the Sheriff’s Office benefits from the use of the LP gas-converted cars, a conversion implemented in recent years for the fleet. Pope did not report any changes in operations due to fuel shortages as of Monday afternoon. SAT Coordinator Eartle McNeil similarly reported no issues for the county’s transportation services.
The City of Clinton was also closely monitoring the situation.
“The city has fuel supplies on hand and we want to be prudent with our fuel use. We are asking our crews to be mindful of their driving and travel and to limit driving to only what is necessary for the next couple of weeks,” City manager Shawn Purvis stated. “Hopefully by that time, the pipeline company will have re-established continuity and prices will stabilize.”
As some motorists were being confronted with higher gas prices amid the shortage, Attorney General Roy Cooper urged citizens to report prices that seem “unreasonably high.”
He said North Carolina’s law against price gouging is currently in effect due to limited supplies of gasoline caused by the leak in Colonial’s pipeline that carries gas from the Gulf Coast to North Carolina and other southeastern states. As of 11 a.m. Monday, more than 400 consumers had filed complaints online or via a toll-free hotline to report potential gas price gouging to Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division.
“Consumers are our eyes and ears on the ground and we want to know if you spot potential gas price gouging,” Cooper said.
AAA Carolinas reports the average price for a gallon in North Carolina on Monday was $2.16 — up from $2.05 last week.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.