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Va. Governor declares state of emergency amid Colonial Pipeline shutdown

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 7:37 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declares a state of emergency Tuesday amid the ongoing distribution issues from the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline.

The pipeline is one of Virginia’s largest fuel providers and was shut down over the weekend after a ransomware cyber-attack on May 7; the pipeline runs from Texas to New York Harbor.

“The concern to me is how someone gets into your system, more so than temporarily being without gas,” said Michael Bourne who was filled up his tank.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a temporary emergency fuel waiver to help deal with shortages in states whose supply of reformulated gas is impacted by the shutdown.

“EPA has waived the federal Reid vapor pressure requirements for fuel sold in Reformulated Gasoline areas of District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to facilitate the supply of gasoline,” a news release stated. “This waiver will continue through May 18, 2021.”

Reformulated gas is typically used during the summer months to cut down on carbon emissions.

Essentially, the EPA’s waiver allows gasoline typically used during the winter months to get pushed back out to the public.

“Basically, the whole idea is whatever gas is out there, if you can get it into some tanks; it’s good gas and drivers can do it, let’s get it out there,” said AAA spokesman Morgan Dean. “Normally, you have to have the summer-blend gasoline right now.”

Northam’s state of emergency would allow local governments the flexibility and funding to help in the recovery process of this event and allow state agencies to issue their own waivers.

“Today’s emergency declaration helps Virginia prevent and respond to gas shortages across the Commonwealth,” Northam said. “With this increased flexibility and funding, we can respond to this evolving situation and ensure access to fuel for Virginia motorists.”

According to Northam, the state’s current gasoline reserves are “sufficient to address immediate supply concerns.”

While many believe there is a gas shortage, essentially the Colonial Pipeline shutdown is creating a distribution problem, not necessarily an overall supply issue.

“This pipeline supplies nearly half of all the fuel to the east coast and when they shut that down, it basically cut off the spigot of getting fuel to station up and down the east coast,” Dean said.

Tankers are not able to get the gas from the pipeline right now due to the shutdown.

Hearing that, has led drivers speeding to gas stations to fill up their tanks.

“We do know some gas stations are running out of the product across the state,” Dean said. “A quick peek at social media will show you people are posting pictures of that.”

“Yes, I’m worried [panic-buying] and the effect it’s going to have on everything; the gas to get our food here, to purchase clothes, anything that requires transportation is going to be effected,” said Kristi Fisher, of Powhatan.

State and local leaders are asking drivers not to buy gas out of panic.

“If you continue to fill up every day and do some of that panic-buying you’re actually going to make the problem worse; you’re going to create un-needed demand and that’s actually going to drain the tanks quicker,” Dean said.

AAA offers these tips during this ongoing situation:

  • Plan ahead to accomplish multiple errands in one trip, and whenever possible avoid high-traffic times of day.
  • Only gas up if you have less than ¼ of a tank left.
  • If you own more than one car, use the most fuel-efficient model that meets the needs of any given journey.
  • Remove unnecessary and bulky items from your car. Minimize your use of roof racks and remove special carriers when not in use. It takes more fuel to accelerate a heavier car, and the reduction in fuel economy is greater for small cars than for larger models.
  • Minimize your use of air conditioning. Even at highway speeds, open windows have less effect on fuel economy than the engine power required to operate the air conditioning compressor.
  • In hot weather, park in the shade or use a windshield sunscreen to lessen heat buildup inside the car. This reduces the need for air conditioning (and thus fuel) to cool down the car.

Meanwhile, AAA said there was some good news announced Tuesday regarding the pipeline shutdown.

“They have restarted a section of the pipeline manually between Greensboro, North Carolina and Woodbine, Maryland,” Dean said. “The hope there is they can serve our area and some of the other areas out there and get some more fuel back out there, which would be good news.”

However, there is no word when the mainline, including the gasoline line, will be operational; the hope is by the weekend.

The ongoing pipeline issue also caused gas prices to spike.

“The longer this goes on, the higher gas prices could go for us,” Dean said. “I did a quick peek before we started talking today, overnight gas prices here in Virginia jumped about 3 cents.”

The increase overnight in Richmond was roughly 2 cents.

On average, prices could increase by 7 cents nationally by the end of the week.

“More is just putting another hit to the pocket,” Fisher said.

On Tuesday afternoon Republican Attorney General Nominee Del. Jason Miyares and House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert urged the Governor to temporarily suspend the gas tax.

The lawmakers released the following statement:

“There are still far too many families struggling to make ends meet, and too many small businesses barely keeping the doors open right now. The last thing they need is a spike in the price of gas at the pump. While there’s little we can do from Richmond to fix pipeline software, we can reduce the burden of government on people until the situation is resolved.

“Today, we’re calling on Governor Northam to use his authority to suspend the collection of motor fuel taxes in Virginia until the Colonial Pipeline is up and running again, and the associated price spikes have worked their way out of the market.”

Northam’s state of emergency is in effect through June 10 unless sooner amended, terminated, or rescinded by further executive order.

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