Atlanta’s Fuel Crisis Sparks Hunt for Increasingly Rare Supply

Atlanta residents abandoned daily routines and faced the prospect of canceling days worth of errands to hunt down an increasingly scarce necessity -- gasoline.

Five days after a criminal hack shut down deliveries of almost half the gasoline and diesel burned in the eastern U.S., the Atlanta area’s reserves of gas and diesel began to plummet. Motorists in the car-loving city faced two choices: park the car and conserve whatever fuel it already holds, or burn that gas by driving around in a search for an open pump.

About 63% of the city’s filling stations were dry or running low on Wednesday afternoon, according to retail fuel tracker GasBuddy. Statewide, 46% of retail outlets were out of fuel, making Georgia one of the hardest hit states in Colonial Pipeline Co.’s service area.

Atlanta’s Fuel Crisis Sparks Hunt for Increasingly Rare Supply

The crisis quickly threatened to upend normal life. A suburban school district is considering a return to virtual learning in response to the fuel crisis, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Meanwhile, residents took to social media to send alerts when they stumbled across convenience stores or big-box stores still selling gasoline.

“I was going to fill up this morning but decided to wait,” Christine Clouds said from behind the wheel of her car at an out-of-fuel Chevron station in the Midtown neighborhood. “This is my fourth station. I’ll try one more, and then tough it out” until the supply is replenished.

Colonial began the process of restarting the conduit around 5 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday but warned that it may be several days before the “product delivery supply chain” returns to normal.

Gasoline already sitting in the pipeline may provide some amount of immediate relief but bulk deliveries of fresh supplies will take longer to arrive, given that it takes several days for fuel produced in Texas refineries to reach Atlanta.

Kelly Barr, who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, had early warning of the crisis that was about to happen but she ignored it. Around 4p.m. local time on Friday, the real estate agent got a cryptic message from a co-worker urging everyone to top off their gas tanks.

“I was like, ‘Oh great, something else is happening,’” Barr said. She reached out to a relative who works in the oil industry, figuring that if anyone would know what’s going in, it’d be him. But he hadn’t heard anything was amiss, so Barr went on with her evening, disregarding the advice.

Atlanta’s Fuel Crisis Sparks Hunt for Increasingly Rare Supply

Within hours of that exchange, Colonial’s system went down and gasoline stopped flowing along its 1,600-mile (2,500-kilometer) route. By Tuesday, Barr’s husband was sending his own warning: Gas stations in Georgia and elsewhere were already out of fuel.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp urged people to stay calm and avoid the temptation to hoard gasoline. A “run on the pumps” was aggravating the supply issue that he was advised by federal official is “a short term problem.” On Tuesday, as panicked drivers were stocking up on fuel and prices were rising, Kemp suspended the state’s gas tax.

“There is no need to fill up every five-gallon can that you have at your house,” Kemp said. “Remain calm and only get the fuel you need to carry out essential activities.” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said his office already had received more than 300 complaints of price gouging.

People were tense but not yet panicked in the suburb of Lawrenceville, where three in four gas stations had plastic bags over their pump handles or orange cones out front. The exception was a bustling QuikTrip convenience store that had regular unleaded on tap and a line of two or three cars at each pump. Store workers were directing traffic to prevent snarls.

Users of the Nextdoor social-media app passed on tips about where to find gas. One user posted that a Kroger supermarket had just taken down the out-of-gas signs. Another frequent topic was which stations had short customer lines.

At the Midtown Chevron station, another driver pulled up. “Any gas?” he asked. “My car says I run out in 20 miles.”

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