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Gas….who’s got gas?

Local motorists waited hours in line on Monday and Tuesday of this week as fuel supplies tightened in the wake of a shutdown of a major supplier of gasoline on the East Coast.

As early as Tuesday morning, some local stations were totally out of gas. Others began rationing the fuel supply, limiting purchases to a set number of gallons.

The buying frenzy came after Monday’s news that the Colonial Pipeline, which serves 10 eastern states, may be shutdown until the end of the workweek.

A cyberattack late last week on the Colonial Pipeline caused it to take precautionary measures and shut down. Federal officials have determined that a Russian group is responsible for the ransomware attack.

Meanwhile, here in the Roanoke-Chowan area, motorists went into a panic-buying mode, which caused local gas stations to run dry.

Duck-Thru Food Stores, based in Ahoskie, posted the following message on their Facebook page on Tuesday:

“To better assist the communities in which we operate, periodic updates on which stores have some sort of gasoline product will be provided through our Facebook page. This list is not all-inclusive and we cannot guarantee that product will be at these stores when you arrive. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding during this very difficult time. We are working very hard to resupply your communities when and if product becomes available to us.”

It is not known if the pipeline’s shutdown will lead to a spike in prices at the pump. If local suppliers have to pay more in a tight market, those increases may be passed to consumers.

The price of gas in Ahoskie at 12 noon on Tuesday was $2.79 per gallon (for regular unleaded).

The limited supply of gas across North Carolina led Governor Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency, which temporarily suspends certain motor vehicle regulations (for truck transports) that will help ensure adequate fuel supplies across the state.

“I have talked today [Tuesday] with federal officials, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and we have a full court press to get the Colonial Pipeline back up and fully operating quickly. Please don’t rush to top off your tanks,” Cooper said in a statement.

The state’s price gouging law also kicked in with the Governor’s emergency order.

“The hackers who breached Colonial Pipeline’s systems have made it harder for hardworking North Carolinians to go about their lives, but I will not allow businesses to take advantage of this incident to charge excessive prices,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. “North Carolina’s price gouging law is in effect – please let my office know if businesses or people might be trying to profit off this situation so we can hold them accountable.”

North Carolina’s law against price gouging, or charging too much in times of a crisis, goes into effect when the governor declares a state of emergency. In some cases, businesses and industries that are heavily impacted by the incident causing the state of emergency have a reasonable need to increase prices in order to resupply, but they should disclose these increases and allow people to make informed purchasing decisions. Businesses cannot, however, unreasonably raise the price of goods or services to profit from a state of emergency.

You can report potential price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint at https://ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/price-gouging/.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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