Panic Buying Gas During A Shortage Only Makes Everything Worse

A customer walks out of an Exxon filling station and convenience store where a sign on the door reads “No Gas,” Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Bedford, Texas. It’s getting harder to fill gas tanks in parts of Texas where some stations are out of fuel and pump costs are spiking. A major gasoline pipeline shuttered due to Harvey may be able to resume shipping fuel from the Houston area by Sunday, which could ease gasoline shortages across the southern U.S. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s not uncommon for gas supply to go down and prices to go up following a major natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey’s devastating impact in Texas, which crippled the region’s oil refineries and cut a large portion of the U.S. short-term oil supply with it. But the U.S. plans for situations like these, so there’s no need to panic—except consumers panic anyway, making the situation far worse.


Dallas News reports that more than a fifth of the U.S. refineries were stalled due to precaution or flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, temporarily disrupting the supply of gasoline, diesel and other essential energies. However, short-term shortages are to be expected, but the issue is compounded when consumers panic about gas prices and all rush to the pump at once. Multiple stores in Texas have reported running out of fuel as drivers lined up in the streets to fill up.

This shortage issue isn’t only focused in Texas, either. While areas impacted by Harvey directly do face shortages, other areas of the country will also face small shortages as fuel is diverted south to supply the affected region until local refineries can return to operations. These small shortages force a spread of consumer panic as prices rise, though, and even a marginal surge of fuel demand can put unnecessary strain on national supply.

National average gas prices hit a two-year high of $2.52 on Friday and may climb as high as $2.75 a gallon, via USA Today:

Although the U.S. had some 230 million barrels of gasoline in storage as of Friday —ample supply in a crisis — transporting fuel from storage terminals to stations has been extremely challenging.

That’s because several key ports along the Texas Gulf Coast were closed for most of the week, the critical Houston Shipping Channel was shuttered for several days and many local roadways have been unpassable.

What’s more, the vital Colonial Pipeline, a critical source of energy transportation from Houston to the Southeast, has been operating at reduced capacity.

To resupply the Texas market with gasoline, one company, Magellan Midstream Partners, reversed a portion of a pipeline that typically transports gasoline and diesel fuel from Dallas to Tulsa, Okla.

Suppliers on the Louisiana Gulf Coast are now sending energy to areas hit hard by Harvey instead of to Florida, which is now getting gasoline on barges from the New York region.

“Gasoline is coming, but instead of being a spigot it’s more of a trickle,” DeHaan said. “But over time the trickle will slowly start to increase.”


Experts urge consumers to not all rush to the pump to try and top off their tanks and save a few dollars before prices rise, as this ends up spiking demand during the small window that supply is at its lowest point. Do not go filling up whatever container you can find, either, as the issue is only temporary. Save the fuel for those who need it, particularly the areas in Texas that now must return and rebuild in the wake of Harvey.

As suppliers organize temporary shifts in distribution, prices will go up slightly, but are expected to go back down as the Gulf region’s refineries come back online over the next month. There should be no need to go lining up at the fuel stop.

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