The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is reminding drivers not to fill plastic bags with gasoline after a hack of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline led to panic-buying that contributed to more than 1,000 gas stations running out of fuel.
"We know this sounds simple, but when people get desperate they stop thinking clearly," the commission tweeted Wednesday. "They take risks that can have deadly consequences. If you know someone who is thinking about bringing a container not meant for fuel to get gas, please let them know it's dangerous."
Currently, there is no gasoline shortage, but if the pipeline shutdown continues past the weekend, it could create broader fuel disruptions.
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The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of what is consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure.
The pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region, but states in the Southeast are more reliant on the pipeline for fuel. Other parts of the country have more sources to tap.
“What you’re feeling is not a lack of supply or a supply issue. What we have is a transportation issue,” said Jeanette McGee, spokeswoman for the AAA auto club. “There is ample supply to fuel the United States for the summer, but what we’re having an issue with is getting it to those gas stations because the pipeline is down.”
A large part of the pipeline resumed operations manually late Monday, and Colonial anticipates restarting most of its operations by the end of the week, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.
However, the disruption is taking place at the time of year when Americans begin to become more mobile, especially as the nation emerges from the pandemic.
Gas prices are rising in Illinois and in the rest of the United States as residents prepare to travel for Memorial Day.
According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gas in the state has risen from $3.163 per gallon to $3.225 in the past seven days for regular unleaded fuel.
As of Tuesday, Gasbuddy.com listed Illinois as having the highest average gas price in the Midwest.
AAA listed the current national average at $3.008 Wednesday, marking the first time the average has ticked about $3 since 2016. Prices begin to rise around this time every year, however.
AAA predicts the national gas price average will rise even higher in response to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown.
"This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally," AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee said in a statement.
The shutdown is expected to largely impact the East Coast, however.
“You go to some states, and you’re going to see much higher increases, especially in the South, because that’s where you’re seeing the largest impact in terms of strain of gasoline, or strain of people,” McGee said.
The White House said Wednesday that the Department of Transportation is now allowing Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to use interstate highways to transport overweight loads of gasoline and other fuels under existing disaster declarations.
Still, prices are expected to fluctuate elsewhere in the leadup to Memorial Day weekend as demand continues to increase.
AAA released its holiday forecast on Tuesday, showing that 1.8 million Illinoisans plan to travel for the holiday. That’s just under pre-pandemic levels of 2 million in 2019; 57% higher than 2020.
“Last year, gas prices were so low. Now, people are looking at the gas prices today and it feels like a sticker shock,” said AAA spokeswoman Molly Hart. “There is a likelihood that gas prices will go up a bit more.”
Gas prices are dramatically higher in 2021 compared to last year. Last May, gasoline cost $2.115 a gallon on average, according to AAA.
Hart cites vaccinations and eagerness to “get out” as the main reasons for the return of travelers.
Here are some tips for conserving fuel, according to AAA:
- Plan ahead to accomplish multiple errands in one trip, and whenever possible avoid high-traffic times of day.
- 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.