Colonial Pipeline restart makes 'substantial progress', will take 'several days' for normal return

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Colonial Pipeline says despite safely restarting its pipeline system, people should still expect a return to normal to take "several days."

The pipeline company said Thursday that it has restarted its entire pipeline system and has since resumed delivery to all of its markets.

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

The latest numbers from Gas Buddy estimate 71% of North Carolina gas stations are without fuel as of Thursday evening.

Thursday ended exactly as the same day started; however, the number is better than how Wednesday ended at 74%.

GAS FINDER: Is there gas near you? Check our map

"Now that Colonial has restarted pipeline operations, we will see a gradually increasing return to normal conditions that will take several days," Governor Roy Cooper said Thursday in a news release. "There is available fuel supply in and around our state, and it will take time for tankers to move that supply to the stations that are experiencing shortages."

He urged residents to avoid purchasing gas unless they absolutely needed it and to avoid unnecessary trips until the fuel supply chain returns to normal.

President Joe Biden, speaking from the White House on Thursday, urged Americans: "Don't panic." But he acknowledged it would take into next week for the situation to return to normal.

"I want to be clear," he said, "we will not feel the effects at the pump immediately. This is not like flicking on a light switch. This pipeline is 5,500 miles long. It had never been fully shut down its entire history, and so -- so fully. And we have to -- now they have to safely and fully return to normal operations."

The Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday afternoon that it had begun the process of restarting operations.

"Colonial Pipeline has made substantial progress in safely restarting our pipeline system and can report that product delivery has commenced in a majority of the markets we service," the company said in a statement on Thursday. "By mid-day today, we project that each market we service will be receiving product from our system. The green segments on this map are operational, meaning product delivery has commenced. Blue lines will be operational later today. This would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of the many Colonial team members across the pipeline who worked safely and tirelessly safely through the night to get our lines up and running. We are grateful for their dedicated service and professionalism during these extraordinary times."

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Mulhern Granholm tweeted on Thursday that things should be returning to normal by the end of the weekend.

Why is North Carolina being hit so hard?


There is no gasoline shortage in the U.S., according to government officials and energy analysts.

However, the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack exposed a critical vulnerability in how both crude oil and refined petroleum makes its way across the country and to gas stations.

EXPLAINER: There's plenty of gas in the U.S. The problem is getting it to NC without the Colonial Pipeline
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The Colonial Pipeline cyber attack exposed a critical vulnerability in how both crude oil and refined petroleum makes its way across the country.



Panic-buying taking toll on fuel supply and mental health

Refineries are what turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, propane and any other number of products. They are spread across the country, but some of the largest are in Houston and New Orleans. That's where the Colonial Pipeline comes in -- transporting that gasoline directly to dozens of giant tanks across the southeast. These tanks or terminals then fill up smaller fuel trucks that haul up to 8,000 gallons of fuel to local stations.

All of the North Carolina terminals are basically running on empty because the pipeline was shut down. Still, the main well has not run dry. There is plenty of gasoline at the refineries but the challenge is how to get it to North Carolina.

In the meantime, trucks, trains and even barges are hauling gasoline. But, at the Wilmington port, there is only room for two barges, and there's a significant wait time there for fuel trucks to fill up. Then there's the added drive time.

Panic-buying


The distribution problems, compounded with the panic-buying, have been draining supplies at thousands of gas stations in the Southeast.

The scene at gas stations was far from typical Wednesday after governors of both North Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency to help ensure supply and access to gas.

Across the state, gas stations that actually had fuel saw long lines form as people panicked to fill up -- exactly what state leaders have said we all need to avoid doing.

CHOPPER VIDEO: Long lines at Costco
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During a news conference on Wednesday, Cooper again urged North Carolinians only to buy when you need gas.

"The shortages we're seeing is pretty much related to panic buying from people," he said. "I want to encourage people not to do that."
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Attorney General Josh Stein's office said on Thursday that there have been 622 calls to the price gouging hotline since Cooper declared the state of emergency earlier this week.



The impact



In an effort to conserve gas, Wake, Durham, Franklin and Vance County public schools have asked students to transition to remote learning on Friday, May 14.

In Hillsborough, police said an elderly citizen who had a crucial medical appointment called dispatch on Wednesday, worried that they wouldn't have enough gas to get to their appointment.

Durham County workers on Wednesday were asked to start working remotely to save gas. Durham County Manager Wendell Davis said he was directing the fueling of county vehicles "to be limited to mission-critical activities only."

Priority would be given to public safety vehicles responding to emergencies, he said.

American Airlines also announced it would have to start "tankering" fuel.

The means planes will load up on fuel in airports in states without supply issues and then fly to Charlotte with enough fuel to either not require a fill-up in Charlotte or require minimal fuel to continue on to the next destination.

A Shell gas station on South Saunders Street in Raleigh was one of the few places to actually have gas on Wednesday but eventually ran out.



Some drivers said they waited as long as 45 minutes to fill up.

In Durham, some drivers pleaded with their neighbors to save the gas for people who really need it.

"It ends up costing businesses money," said Travis McKee. "People freaking out like it's an apocalypse. That costs money. We don't need people filling up a 55-gallon drum to fill their tanks."

Attorney General Josh Stein's office said on Thursday that there have been 622 calls to the price gouging hot line since Cooper declared the state of emergency earlier this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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