Motorists Rush To Fill Up, Government Officials Seek to Reassure

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Cars are queued at Royal Farms gas pumps in Onley. Photo by Connie Morrison.

By Connie Morrison —

Eastern Shore motorists were filling up on the way home from work Tuesday, the same day Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency to address disruptions from a cyberattack that shut down a 5,500-mile pipeline that supplies fuel to the southeast United States.

“About 70 percent of the supplies of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and especially southern Virginia are impacted the most,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, speaking at a White House press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Colonial Pipeline was hit with the cyberattack Friday, May 7. The company shut down the pipeline to prevent the ransomware’s spread.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Colonial announced it had restarted pipeline operations, according to a press release on the company’s webpage.

“Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal. Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period,” the release disclosed.

Gov. Northam said the emergency order provides flexibility and funding for state and local governments to ensure adequate fuel supply.

Shermaine Wright, a mentor at Perdue in Accomac, was fueling her car at the Royal Farms in Onley shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday. She had not planned to stop but heard about the pipeline cyberattack while at work. Her coworkers “were saying it was in our best interest to fill up on the way home,” she said.

A steady stream of two to three vehicles waited at each pump shortly after 5 p.m., with gas prices at $2.79 per gallon.

Cathy Northam sits in one of the two cars she fueled at the Onley Royal Farms gas station Tuesday.

“Last year it was toilet paper, this year it’s gas,” said Cathy Northan, of Onancock, topping off her Chevy Malibu on the way home from work. A reporter caught up with her at the pump as she was filling her second car, a Kia Sorento.

By Tuesday night there were unconfirmed spotty reports of local gas stations selling out.

“We have been having a gas frenzy,” said Quintara Lyons, who answered the phone at Corner Mart in Cape Charles. The station was one several of contacted by the Post around 7 p.m. Tuesday. All still had fuel.

But as motorists flocked to gas stations to fill vehicles and containers, government officials rushed to assure consumers there wasn’t really a shortage and delivery interruptions would be temporary.

“Last night, one of Colonial’s major lines resumed operation under manual control while the existing inventory is available, along with some of the smaller lines that are spurs off of the major lines.  They are getting those up and running,” said Granholm. “… Colonial announced yesterday that they fully expect to substantially restore operations by the end of this week.”

Colonial is expected to decide late Wednesday afternoon whether to fully restart the pipeline. Once that decision is made, “It will take a few days to be up and running,” Granholm said, which involves adding fuel from the refineries into the pipeline and restoring the flow.

“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend,” Granholm said.

“We know that we have gasoline; we just have to get it to the right places,” Granholm reiterated. “We want to encourage people: It’s not that we have a gasoline shortage, it’s that we have this supply crunch, and that things will be back to normal soon, and that we’re asking people not to hoard.”

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