Panic buying, school shutdowns and higher gas prices: effects of a six-day shut down of the Colonial Pipeline across Tennessee

By: - May 13, 2021 9:25 pm
A gas station on Lebanon Pike in Nashville displays an "out" messages as consumers rushed to panic buy after the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline. (Photo: Tennessee Lookout)

A gas station on Lebanon Pike in Nashville displays an “out” messages as consumers rushed to panic buy after the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline. (Photo: Tennessee Lookout)

One-third of gas stations in Tennessee were without gas on Thursday, after a ransomware attack on a major fuel pipeline prompted a temporarily shut down in operations and consumers’ engaged in a panic-driven frenzy to fill up their tanks.

Colonial Pipeline resumed operations of its 5,500-mile on Wednesday after preemptively shutting down for six days as a precautionary measure. Gas supplies are expected to soon return to normal.

Gas prices throughout the state rose in a matter of days, from $2.74 to $2.81, and GasBuddy reported widespread shortages at the pump across the eastern United States. In Georgia, 48% of gas stations were out of fuel on Thursday, GasBuddy reported. 

The gas shortage prompted the Dickson County Schools system, located in Middle Tennessee, to go remote for two days as precaution. 

Chattanooga city officials reported that more than a third of Chattanooga gas stations were out of fuel by Thursday.

Knoxville fared better.  Since Knoxville has a second pipeline and Pilot Co., a national fuel and travel center company headquartered in the city, they were able to avoid a crisis and kept their gas prices at $2.79, lower than the state average, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Gas station employees watched a frenzy of buying.

Ryan McGill, an employee at an 7 Eleven gas station on Lebanon Pike in Nashville, said he received 8,000 gallons of gas on Tuesday morning, but by 7 p.m. it was gone, bought out by customers spending more than $100 at a time to fill not only their cars but separate canisters of gas. 

“We wouldn’t even be out of gas today if everyone went on their normal, daily routines,” said McGill.  “It’s the toilet paper situation all over again,” he said in reference to the panic-buying at the start of the pandemic.

At a Thornton’s gas station on Bell Road in Nashville, a busy destination on a corner with two other gas stations that typically offer higher-priced fuel, there was no gas to be had, only diesel. 

Ed, a Thornton’s clerk who would only give his first name because he’s not an authorized company spokesman, said he doesn’t expect any more gas until next Tuesday. The gas station at Kroger next door and the Mapco across the street similarly posted signs that said “no gas.” 

While it may take a few days for gas prices to go back to normal and gas stations to refuel, the bigger question is how cities will prepare for future emergencies, said state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.

Clemmons called it a wake up call for showing how heavily dependent local infrastructure is on gasoline. This was not a question of a gas shortage, but an interruption, said Clemmons, but it was still enough to cause a frenzy “driven by false information.” 

While most of the fuel disruptions were caused by panic buyers fueled by misinformation, bike and electric car owners are “probably laughing at us,” said Clemmons. 

Otherwise, government officials reported that the fuel crisis had not gone on long enough to cause any major issues.

State transportation officials reported minimal impact on operations. Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson Brad Freeze said that, despite the pipeline crisis, traffic on state freeways remained the same. 

Officials at the Nashville International Airport prepare for such emergencies. Tom Jurkovich, the airport’s vice-president of the communications, said airlines were individually responsible for fueling their planes and had to have a backup plan in case of fuel shortages. There were no disruption in flights.

“There are other ways to bring fuel to the airport, such as a tanker,” said Jurkovich.

Officials in Alcoa, Tennessee said their small town felt almost no effects from the crisis. Larry Harper, a city government employee, said he had heard of some gas stations in Blount County running out of fuel, but not to the extent that bigger cities were reporting. Gas prices crept up a bit, but panic-buying has subsided since Wednesday when people “realized that we have plenty of fuel.”

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.

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