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Pipeline outage has worried motorists lining up at area gas pumps
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Pipeline outage has worried motorists lining up at area gas pumps

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Drivers in Culpeper crowded to gas stations Tuesday as effects of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown began to be felt.

By early evening at least three of the town’s gas stations posted signs that they had no gas. The remaining stations in the area had cars lined up down near-by roads as people waited to fill their tanks.

At the Citgo on Orange Road 40 cars were lined up down the hill into the Gold’s Gym parking lot. At the Shell station on Rt. 666 near Eastern View High School, 30 cars snaked from the station to the top of the Rt. 29 overpass.

Adam Mahoney, 28, was fueling up his rental car at the BP on Madison Road Tuesday afternoon. “’What’s going on?’ he asked a bystander, as he waited in line to fill up. Visiting Culpeper from his hometown of Grand Rapids, Min., Mahoney had not yet heard news about the pipeline shortages.

Mahoney was one of hundreds of drivers seeking gasoline Tuesday afternoon, as lines lengthened and frustration grew.

Cars crowded gas stations along the State Route 3 business corridor from the Interstate 95 interchange to points west early Tuesday evening in the Fredericksburg area.

While Fredericksburg gas stations were plenty busy and some even ran out of fuel, there were no excessively long lines of vehicles waiting to gas up, as has been reported in Virginia and other states as the key pipeline serving the East Coast remained closed.

The 5,500-mile pipeline was hit by a cyberattack on Friday night. The FBI confirmed on Monday that the ransomware attack was orchestrated by a Russia-based criminal group called DarkSide.

While officials initially said the shutdown was unlikely to have an immediate impact on gasoline supplies, it didn’t take long for gas lines to start forming at stations in Southeastern and Atlantic Coast states.

Photos and videos shared on social media showed drivers lining up for gas in the Carolinas, Georgia and other states in the Southeast, according to the Associated Press. Many stations have run out of gas.

In Virginia, the governor declared a state of emergency on Tuesday because of the pipeline disruption.

Culpeper County Emergency Services Director Bill Ooten on Tuesday addressed local impacts of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

“Since this pipeline is the primary source of gasoline for a great many Virginia retailers, there has been some concern that this shutdown will create a fuel shortage,” Ooten said. “That concern is prompting many to head to their local stations to fill up their tanks and to also obtain extra fuel. We are already seeing long lines at filling stations locally today.”

Ooten said his office was monitoring the situation closely and had participated in a conference call with The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency addressing the ransomware attack.

“There are efforts also underway to secure fuel provisions for public safety vehicles, should we in fact experience any prolonged shortages,” Ooten said in the statement, posted by Culpeper County Board Chairman Gary Deal.

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While many Fredericksburg-area stations were doing brisk business on Tuesday, others were selling no fuel. Some area Valero stations were empty of vehicles. The Murphy Express gas station next to the Walmart in Orange County had signs taped to its pumps stating that the station was temporarily out of gas.

Not far away, at the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20, the Sheetz and 7-Eleven pumps were packed with cars. There were also lines of cars waiting for gas at stations in southern Stafford and elsewhere in the region.

By Tuesday, GasBuddy reported that more than 1,000 gas stations had run out of gasoline, shortages primarily driven by panic buying, according to the AP. In Virginia, 7.5 percent of the state’s 3,880 gas stations reported running out of fuel.

Colonial Pipeline officials said the company was working to resume operations by the end of the week, according to the AP. But fuel industry analysts are concerned about “panic buying,” something they say could prolong any impacts to the gas supply.

GasBuddy reported that demand for gas across the country rose by about 20 percent Monday, compared with the prior Monday, according to the AP. GasBuddy also reported the average change for five states affected the most—Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia—was even more significant, with a 40.1 percent increase in demand.

“The most important thing is not to rush out and fill up,” Patrick DeHaan, fuel analyst for Gasbuddy, said in a Sunday livestream on Facebook. “This certainly will prolong the outage if everyone goes out to fill their tanks. So don’t be the person that goes out and hoards gasoline.”

DeHaan said the situation could grow “a little more dicey” if the outage drags on, but he added that fuel is stored for stations to refill when empty.

“You’re gonna have gasoline in a week or two or whenever this is done,” he added.

Gasoline retailers said they still have adequate supplies.

“There is no question that the Colonial Pipeline outage is becoming a significant event for the entire East Coast, as it supplies over 50 percent of fuel supply to end consumers in many markets that it serves,” Lori Bruce, a spokeswoman for the Wawa chain of convenience stores, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“However,” Bruce added, “I can share that Wawa has had no interruption of supply at its stores in our six states and plans on maintaining supply through this event.”

At Tuesday night’s Culpeper Town Council meeting, Councilman Jon Russell asked if the town was keeping an eye on its fleet for fuel availability. Culpeper Public Services Director Jim Hoy said town vehicles are fueled through a state contract through Quarles.

The back-up supplier is Southern States, Hoy said, mentioning reports of fuel shortages at six stations in town. He said the town had been in discussion with the police department in requesting fueling priority be given to public safety vehicles.

“We will be working on that tomorrow,” Hoy said. The local police department instructed its staff to fuel up its vehicles when heading home Tuesday, he added.

Councilman Keith Price asked if the town was slowing down any fuel-consuming projects or contracts to conserve fuel at this point. Hoy said Tuesday night he was unaware of that happening, but said the situation was so rapidly evolving that could change by Wednesday.

Culpeper Star-Exponent Editor Emily Jennings and staff writer Allison Brophy-Champion contributed to this report.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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