Tuesday, 1 November 2016

09:35 – Déjà vu all over again. Except this time it’s different. At least one and possibly both of the Colonial Pipeline pipes was damaged yesterday by an explosion and fire. That’s 100+ million gallons of fuel per day that won’t be making it to the East Coast for an indefinite period. No word yet on how long it will take to repair the lines, but my guess is it’ll be a lot longer than last time. Rather than just having to deal with a fractured line and a large pool of gasoline, this time they’ll have to deal with the aftermath of an explosion and fire.

Fuel progresses through the pipelines at a walking pace, which means it takes a week or ten days to get from the site of the break to the Colonial tank farm in Greensboro. So that’s the good news. We have another ten days’ worth of fuel that’s still in transit. The bad news is that that’s all we’ll get for some time to come. When the pipeline broke on September 9th, the news didn’t hit the media for ten days. During that time, people were filling their tanks normally. By the time most people became aware of what had happened, repairs were underway. Panic buying starting on September 19th and 20th quickly caused big fuel shortages, but it was only a week or so before supplies resumed.

This time, it may be a lot different. The 100+ million gallons/day that the pipeline delivers is a lot of fuel, but only when consumption is normal. When people realize there’s a problem, the panic buying starts. Instead of waiting until they’re down to a quarter tank before filling up, as most people usually do, everyone rushes out to fill their tanks, and gas stations quickly run dry. Panic breeds more panic, so the new norm becomes to keep your tank as full as possible. When people see an open gas station, they get in line even if they’re nearly full already. There’s no way the distribution system can deal with this kind of volume even with the pipeline running at full capacity.

Right now, we’re in the calm before the storm. Supplies aren’t yet restricted. Prices are going up and will continue to do so, but gasoline remains available, as it will for the next few days. As the pipeline runs dry, more and more gas stations will be unable to get gas, and panic buying will start occurring in spades. My advice is to get ahead of the curve. Panic-buy today, regardless of price. It’ll cost more tomorrow, and much more next week. Minimize your driving. Car pool to work. Put off any long trips you have scheduled, at least until the supply situation clears up.

Barbara is scheduled to drive down to Winston on Thursday to spend the day running errands. We’ll keep an eye on the situation. It takes only four or five gallons of gas for Barbara to get down to Winston and back, but depending on the developing situation it may turn out that we’d be better off rescheduling that trip.