Recovery at Richmond gas stations could take several days in wake of pipeline shutdown

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The Sam’s Club on Midlothian Turnpike was out of gas on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Tyler Thrasher)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Colonial Pipeline has made substantial progress in restarting its system and getting fuel flowing to states along the east coast, according to the latest supply update. But that doesn’t mean gas prices will steady out right away.

Morgan Dean with AAA Mid-Atlantic said that recovery at the pump could take several days for drivers in the greater Richmond area.

“The updates this morning from Colonial are even better than we expected,” Dean said. “There’s going to be some catchup here. But there’s also good news with that. Because of all the issues that Virginia has seen with gas stations running on low fuel availability or being out of fuel, Virginia’s among the states being prioritized to get that fuel back in the tanks of those stations so that folks can fill up again.”

Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday evening that it had restarted operations. At that point, more than half of the gas stations in the commonwealth were out of gas, according to GasBuddy. The percentage of empty gas stations in Virginia rose from 52% to 56% Wednesday night. But Thursday afternoon, GasBuddy reported that the percentage of gas stations without gas fell back to 52%.

“We’ve seen a 15-cent increase just since Monday,” Dean said. “The good news now is that fuel is flowing. That should stem some of those increases. But we may continue to see them for the next couple of days or so as we’re getting back to, more normal times and we’re working on this recovery.”

The Colonial Pipeline shutdown came at a particularly challenging time for the gas industry, with demand already on a steady increase before the hack.

“This is a time when we start to get into summer driving season and we also see a lot of people planning trips for Memorial Day,” Dean said. “Gas prices could be higher for a while longer. We need to get farther away from this incident, have it farther in the rearview mirror, and see where gas prices go after that.”

According to AAA, the national average for a gallon of regular gas rose two cents overnight to $3.02 Thursday morning. In Virginia, there was a four-cent increase, and a five-cent increase in Richmond.

“Summer, we typically see higher gas prices, solely because there’s so much more demand for people driving for their trips,” Dean said. “We’re getting ready to go into a period where more and more people are going to be driving and start to push demand up on that end of things. So there’s a lot of moving parts right now with gas prices, and we’ll have to wait and see.”

Despite the changes at the pump over the past few days, Dean said that many Americans are still expected to carry on with their Memorial Day weekend travel plans.

“Had this pipeline outage continued for another week or another week and a half and we were continuing to see stations that were running dry and not able to get enough product or really refuel the cars that were coming in, that really could’ve affected people choosing not to drive for Memorial Day weekend,” Dean said. “But now that we are back running fuel through the pipeline and it’s starting to get to its destination and will soon start to be back in stations across the state, I think that’s good news and I think most people will still continue with whatever plans they had.”

AAA released its Memorial Day weekend travel outlook for 2021 on Tuesday, revealing that 37 million Americans are planning to travel for the holiday weekend. That’s a 60% increase from 2020.

“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” AAA Mid-Atlantic Public and Government Affairs Manager Martha Meade said. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”

As fuel begins to make its way to gas stations in the greater Richmond area, Dean cautioned drivers to only fill up their vehicles with the gas they need.

“I know people are worried right now,” he said. “We encourage people not to panic buy. Wait until you get lower to a quarter of a tank and then refill, and that leaves gas out there for others who may be in a more desperate situation.”

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