Gas prices reached an average of $3 per gallon nationwide for the first time in seven years Wednesday, as federal and Maryland leaders announced efforts to alleviate fuel shortages from the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which carries nearly half of the East Coast’s supply.
The pipeline resumed operations Wednesday, the owner announced, although the company warned it would take days for fuel supply to catch up to demand and return to normal.
To expedite gas supply from out of state, Maryland is waiving weight restrictions and hours-of-service requirements for motor carriers, consistent with the federal government’s regional emergency declaration, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.
“The emergency actions that we are taking will provide the state the flexibility it needs to address any disruption in fuel supply,” Hogan said in a statement, adding that the supply chain “is working.”
While there is “anxiety and concern,” he said later at a news conference, there is no need for panic buying, which he said would make the situation worse.
As of Wednesday evening, an estimated 18% of Maryland gas stations were out of gas, according to GasBuddy.com, which tracks gas prices nationwide. During his news conference, Hogan disputed the percentage of outages.
The state’s average gas prices have risen 8 cents per gallon since the outage began Friday, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Gas prices reached $2.94 per gallon of regular, unleaded fuel in Maryland Wednesday, and they could rise an additional 7 cents before Memorial Day Weekend, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Ali.
A significant rebound in the number of Americans traveling for the traditional start of summer is expected to increase demand, AAA projects. More than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more — an increase of 60% from Memorial Day 2020, which saw the lowest number on record amid the pandemic.
To address shortages in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday waived emissions regulations until May 18 for fuel sold “to facilitate the supply of gasoline.”
Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday that operations had resumed. But residual effects of the outage could linger more than two weeks after the pipeline is reopened, because of the 15-18 days fuel can take to reach the region from Texas, Ali said.
The auto club, which represents more than 1 million Maryland drivers, is urging drivers not to rush unnecessarily to the pump, which will exacerbate shortages, she said.
“Some stations could see an extra few days of temporarily bagged pumps,” Ali said. “However, it is important to know there is ample gas supply in the U.S., and it is just a matter of getting deliveries to stations to meet demand.”
The Erdman Avenue Exxon in East Baltimore and the Carroll Motor Fuels on Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park were out of gas for 10 hours one day this week.
Customers didn’t seem too perturbed by the bagged pumps and handwritten “NO GAS” sign, said the stations’ owner, Haroon Ali, didn’t know when more would arrive. (He is not related to the AAA spokeswoman.). Most just headed to another gas station. But Ali said three or four other gas station owners told him they were selling their remaining supply.
“They haven’t gotten any deliveries since yesterday,” Ali said. “They’re about to run out.”
Airlines have multiple days of jet fuel inventory on hand at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and none have been forced to add layovers due to lack of fuel, airport spokesman Jonathan Dean said.
Nor does the Maryland Transit Administration anticipate being forced to interrupt any bus or other transit service because of the cyberattack, said MTA chief Kevin Quinn in an interview.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who is running for governor, posted on Facebook that his office’s Field Enforcement Bureau, which regulates Maryland fuel suppliers, is offering them waivers and temporary permits.
“Maryland is fortunate to have an outstanding Port of Baltimore already receiving product by water transportation,” the comptroller wrote. “Working together with the Port Administration and our petroleum distributors, we are ready to assist in providing critical gas supplies that keep our economy moving forward.”
The Port of Baltimore can receive gasoline and diesel by ship, and private port operators handle the fuel at tank farm facilities in Curtis Bay, said William P. Doyle, executive director of the port.
“In addition, Maryland can use its anchorage sites in the Port of Baltimore, Mid-Bay and Annapolis area anchorages to ‘lighter transfer’ [as a ship-to-ship transfer of petroleum is called] from large ships on to barges so they can deliver the product into smaller ports,” Doyle said in a statement.
Exxon Mobil Corp. is working with its independent distributors and wholesale customers to supply fuel to areas affected by the pipeline shutdown and help meet consumer demand, company spokeswoman Julie L. King said.
“Efforts are under way to quickly transport refined products from unaffected regions to communities and customers in the most severely impacted markets,” King said in an email.
Jay Victor steered his fuel tanker one evening into the parking lot of the Exxon at Erdman Avenue and Edison Highway, where the gas had run out about 8 a.m.
Victor, 38, who lives in Joppa, said demand has been “crazy” this week. He’s been fueling five or six gas stations per day, he said.
“I’m slammed right now,” he said. “We’re trying to keep up.”
An ongoing shortage of truck drivers is exacerbating the situation, and they are among the many workers receiving newfound recognition from the public during a time of crisis, said Victor, who has been driving a tanker for five years.
“People tend to overlook a lot of these guys out here,” he said. “They think we’re just in the way. That product is what keeps America going. … Everybody bands together to make sure the product is being delivered.”
Amid the shortage, gas station owners have been glad to see Victor’s tanker pull up, he said.
“They can take the bags off and continue their day as planned,” he said.
Baltimore Sun photojournalist Karl Merton Ferron and reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.