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Hikes In Gas Prices Fueled In Part By Panic Buying

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Many gas stations in the Southeast are seeing long lines of drivers eager to fill their tanks and their jerry cans. In some cases, they're getting turned away because the gas stations have simply run out. Anxiety is rising, and in some areas, so are prices. Tiffany Wright is a spokeswoman for AAA in the Carolinas.

TIFFANY WRIGHT: We've already seen higher gas prices. They've gone up as high from anywhere from three to 10 cents overnight.

CHANG: And why is that? Well, a cyberattack brought down a crucial fuel pipeline, and that triggered waves of panic buying. NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us now to explain.

Hey, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So where exactly in the U.S. is this a problem right now?

DOMONOSKE: We're talking about in the Southeast states like Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia.

CHANG: OK. And what exactly is causing these long lines?

DOMONOSKE: Well, if you want to blame two things, it's hackers and human psychology. You know, I called up a lot of gas stations today, and I spoke to some pretty stressed out people at them. I asked Kellie Leslie at a food shop in Marietta, S.C., if they had any gas for sale.

KELLIE LESLIE: No, ma'am. I don't have anything but diesel. We had a delivery coming in, but it never showed up. It was supposed to have been here at midnight last night.

CHANG: Man.

DOMONOSKE: So there you have one cause, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

DOMONOSKE: The supply disruption. Here you have the hack that disrupted these deliveries across a large chunk of the country. But Leslie says that's actually not the reason why her gas station is totally drained right now. The real culprit for that is that so many people showed up to fill up at the exact same time because they saw the news about the pipeline and freaked out. Leslie actually called it mean and rude.

LESLIE: Because there's people that need to go to the doctors and take their kids to school. So just get what you need. Don't hoard it.

DOMONOSKE: Basically, she's saying some people do need to fill up, but a lot of people who have half a tank and no urgent plans are rushing out to gas stations to get a full tank. And she says basically, if you can wait until next week to fill up, you should wait.

CHANG: Wait. But by next week, do you think things will be back to normal?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So Colonial Pipeline - that's the pipeline that was attacked. They say that within several days, they do plan to resume operations. That's by the end of this week. Pipelines move slowly, and they do take a while to catch up with demand. But the other thing is this panic buying could create a bigger problem in and of itself, which is why a lot of governors are urging people to calm down, emphasizing that there are trucks that can help fill in some of the gaps in the meantime.

CHANG: Right. Well, I know that this pipeline supplies, you know, fuel for a lot of regions in the U.S. But why is this a particular problem in the Southeast?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So Colonial - you imagine they supply nearly half the fuel for vehicles on the entire East Coast, right? But picture the East Coast. Down in the Gulf Coast, you have a lot of refineries, so there's a lot of local gasoline. Up in the Northeast, you can get tankers full of gasoline coming over from Europe. But in the Southeast, they're much more reliant on these pipelines.

CHANG: I see - OK, so clearly lots of anxiety right now. Let me just ask you, though, is there a gasoline shortage right now.

DOMONOSKE: In the U.S., no. The country has a lot of gasoline. We had it stockpiled before this started to happen. The refineries are still making gasoline. There is a delivery problem in some areas, getting the gasoline to the right places. And that's where, again, these trucks come in.

CHANG: And are prices going to spike?

DOMONOSKE: Well, we heard from AAA in some places there's already been an increase of several cents. I will emphasize, though, gas prices were going up already over the last few weeks, which is not a surprise. We're approaching summer driving season. So if you see prices go up by several cents where you are, it may not have anything to do with the pipeline. It could be a seasonal change.

CHANG: That is NPR's Camila Domonoske.

Thank you, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks.

CHANG: And thanks to Catherine Welch of member station WFAE for contributing to this report. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.