Panic buying shines a bright light on the lack of alternatives

Published 5:32 pm Friday, May 14, 2021

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Last week I wrote about a chicken shortage affecting fast food restaurants, both locally and across the country. I wrote about it because it was kind of silly, right? The most popular food at our favorite restaurants isn’t available. Oh no, whatever shall we do!

Try something new for a change, of course! Simple. Problem solved until the chicken tenders are plentiful again.

What’s not silly, however, is this week’s new shortage. As of the day I’m writing this (May 13), local gas stations are running low or completely out of gas because of reports about the Colonial Pipeline shutdown.

The pipeline, which runs from Texas up the East Coast to New York, was hit with a cyber attack last week, potentially affecting the computers which the company uses to help distribute the fuel up and down the coast. So the company shut the system down temporarily while they addressed the issue, and later switched to manual operations in parts of the pipeline. So the gas is still being distributed. It’s just a lot slower than normal and not at full capacity.

There’s not an actual shortage of fuel itself.

But unfortunately, panic buying from frantic people have created a shortage locally. Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this, things will be back closer to normal. (The pipeline began resuming regular operations Wednesday evening.) But right now, many gas stations in the Roanoke Chowan area have “sorry for the inconvenience” signs on their empty gas pumps.

In other parts of North Carolina, people are waiting in long lines to fill up. WRAL even reported a scuffle between two frustrated people at a Knightdale gas station on Wednesday.

Basically, in anticipation of a possible gas shortage, too many people rushed to fill up their cars and gas cans and caused an ACTUAL gas shortage. We made the problem worse than it actually was, especially because there’s no need to hoard gas (just like there was no need to hoard toilet paper last year when there was no supply chain shortage of that either).

If nothing else, we apparently are super good at panic buying in North Carolina! Even surrounding states of Virginia and South Carolina didn’t have as many panic buyers as we did. By Thursday morning, up to 71 percent of gas stations in NC didn’t have any gas.

Governor Cooper quickly enacted a state of emergency, a necessary action in order to waive certain restrictions that would further slow down the transportation of gas around the state. But maybe people heard the word “emergency” and jumped in their cars before listening to the rest?

But I think the most important thing to take away from this whole situation is our reliance solely on gasoline. Like I mentioned earlier, the chicken shortage is something to easily poke fun at because there are still plenty of other options to choose from on restaurant menus. We’ll be fine without a Bojangles chicken supremes meal for a while.

It’s a different story when it comes to fueling our vehicles. There’s no alternative I can pour into my car’s gas tank if the local gas station is out. I’m not going to be able to MacGyver my car into running on peanut butter, paper clips, and duct tape.

Being reliant on only one option is probably going to continue to be more of a problem in the future.

The automotive industry has been developing electric cars for years, but I personally can only think of one person I know who owns one. They used to not be very affordable. I haven’t checked lately, but I would assume electric cars still aren’t that easy to afford, especially if you’re living on a tight budget.

And even if people around here were to purchase an electric car, there currently aren’t a lot of options for charging it if you’re out and about. Murfreesboro’s Chamber of Commerce recently attempted to get a charging station for the town, but plans fell through because the cost was too expensive. They haven’t given up though, and hope to be more successful in the future.

I think the Colonial Pipeline incident demonstrates clearly that our society has to branch out and diversify our energy sources. Why are people focused on developing cars that can automatically drive themselves when they could be working on developing cars which can easily run on a variety of fuel sources? Why are we not investing in developing more useful technology for the future?

If my car eventually runs out of gas, I am lucky enough that I can just work from home. But if the past year of the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that none of us can stay at home forever. We’re going to need better solutions in the future.

Start working on them.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.