The gas shortage may ruin my trip this week — and it could ruin yours, too

May 11, 2021

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It’s road trip time in the Sloan household. Or, at least, it was until yesterday.

That’s when the panic about gas supplies began setting in around my hometown — Weaverville, North Carolina. First, the Ingles station ran out. Then the Shell station. By afternoon, the few gas outlets in the area that still had supplies had lines 50 cars deep.

Now it’s all gone.

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Thanks to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, there is no gas in Weaverville and, from what I hear, not much down the road in Asheville, either. And there are developing gas shortages in several other Southeastern states including Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina, according to industry watchers such as oil analyst Patrick De Haan of GasBuddy.

Unless things improve in the next 72 hours, my road trip — a 695-mile journey northward to New York City for my daughter’s graduation on Monday from Fordham University — could be ruined. And, if you’re scheduled for a road trip in this part of the country in the coming days, your trip could be in jeopardy, too.

Industry watchers such as De Haan are urging Americans not to panic about gas shortages — and not to panic-buy gas, which just adds to the problem by reducing supplies at the pump in the short term. Most stations still have gas, they note, and those that don’t will get new supplies soon.

But the issue for me and for many would-be road trippers on the East Coast this week is whether we can be sure or not that we’ll be able to fill up during our journeys. We don’t want to get a few hundred miles away from home and find ourselves in one of the pockets of the country (such as my little corner of North Carolina) that doesn’t have a single gallon of fuel available.

The 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline, which carries fuel from Texas to several Southeastern states and then up to New Jersey, supplies nearly half of the fuel supply for the entire East Coast — a not-insignificant sum.

The pipeline has been shut down since Friday, due to a cyberattack.

Even travelers with upcoming flights to or from the area could be affected. American Airlines, for example, has had to adjust some of its long-haul flights out of Charlotte (CLT) to refuel.

Extra stops: American Airlines is adding refueling stops to some flights as fuel pipeline hack chokes supplies

If the pipeline stays down in the coming days, there’s the risk that at least some stations along my journey would find themselves out of fuel. Would they all be out of fuel? Unlikely, seems to be the word from experts. But how much can we bet on that before hitting the road?

Right now, the issue is moot for me. My Toyota RAV4 has just a sliver of fuel in it, enough to go just 60 miles according to the dashboard display. Until gas returns to Weaverville — a mountain town in Western North Carolina not far from the Tennessee border — my world has shrunk.

Earlier today, I had a 75-mile range on my RAV4. But I burned 15 miles of that range searching in vain in several directions for a station that didn’t have an “out of fuel” sign out front or bags over its pumps.

The town of Weaverville has temporarily run out of gas, and my Toyota RAV4 has enough fuel left to make it just 60 miles. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

I am down a mountain road that’s a couple of miles away from even the closest gas station, and I’m now thinking strategically about how I will approach the next few days. I will make another foray down to civilization tomorrow to see if gas trucks have arrived with salvation. But I only have enough fuel to do that a few times.

Luckily, I work remotely from home for TPG (where I normally write about cruising). I have plenty of food in the fridge. The satellite internet remains strong. I will be just fine until the pipeline comes back online and fuel begins flowing to this region again.

The company that operates the Colonial Pipeline has said it could restart a substantial portion of the pipeline by the end of this week. And, even if it isn’t able to get the pipeline back online quickly, some fuel can be brought to the Southeast by truck and rail, industry watchers say.

But, until that happens, my road trip this weekend remains in doubt.

Featured photo of cars waiting in line for gas in Weaverville, North Carolina, on May 10 by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy

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