Gas prices in South Carolina continued to rise Monday because of a leak in a major pipeline artery near Montgomery, Ala., but state officials took additional steps to increase the supply of gas entering the Palmetto State.
Gas prices in South Carolina averaged $2.04 on Monday, an increase of 13 cents from last week, according to according to AAA Carolinas.
South Carolina is one of five states most impacted by the leak in a Colonial Pipeline artery near Montgomery, where company officials said between 250,000 and 336,000 gallons of gasoline have spilled since Sept. 9. Shortages have also been reported in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.
Stations in some areas of South Carolina have had to place bags over fuel nozzles and put up tape to close off pumps, particularly in the Upstate around Rock Hill and in the North Augusta area.
Gov. Nikki Haley issued an executive order Monday suspending federal regulations to raise the size and weight of trucks delivering fuel into the state in an effort to increase the amount of fuel with each delivery. Last week, Haley issued an order extending the number of hours delivery drivers could be on the roads.
Colonial Pipeline has two terminals in the Upstate and one in North Augusta that are served by the pipeline shut down in Alabama, according to Bonnie Loomis, executive director of the South Carolina Petroleum Council.
“Colonial is working to bring fuel in on tanker trucks from other parts of the country to . . . maintain supply at the retail level,” Loomis said Monday.
Most nationally-branded gas stations receive fuel under long-term service contracts, Loomis said. In major supply disruptions, those stations get preference over deliveries to smaller, “mom-and-pop” stations that are not part of a chain, Loomis said.
The council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, is aware of spotty shortages around the state, but they are typically limited to a few hours, Loomis said, and usually impact just those “mom-and-pop” locations.
Loomis said if drivers “maintain their routine purchase patterns, and we don’t see stockpiling or people continuously topping off their tanks,” then the contingency plans in place to supply fuel to the state should be adequate until normal operations are restored to Colonial’s lines.
Several aspects of the state’s fuel regulations are wrapped up in transportation codes, so several governmental and industrial agencies conferred about the issue Monday to ensure expedited fuel delivery, according to Chaney Adams, Haley’s press secretary.
“Consumers can and should purchase fuel as they would normally – and as engineers work to repair pipeline issues, we will continue to monitor developments in the region,” Adams said.
When the spill is repaired, which Colonial Pipeline has estimated could take a week or more, gas prices should drop again because suppliers have already moved to their winter blend of gasoline, which costs less, and because driving is down now with the summer travel season over, experts said.
At the Sunoco Food Mart on Bush River Road at the intersection of Interstate 20 and Interstate 26, clerks Ila Patel and Kush Patel said their reserve tanks were low, likely around 2,000 gallons at midday Monday, and they were unsure when new deliveries would arrive.
“If you don’t have gas, nobody (will) come in to buy other items,” Kush Patel said.
Some customers at the station expressed reservations about the recent price increases, and said they understand they are at the mercy of a supply chain they don’t control. “We drive and are out of town a lot, so we need a lot of gas,” said Rudi Stolla, owner of Starhanger High-Rise Building Services, which performs window washing, caulking and other glass services.
“Crude oil prices are still reasonable, so (gas) prices shouldn’t be going up (so fast),” Stolla said.
Gas price increases in South Carolina since the spill have been “spotty,” according to AAA Carolinas. “You see some stations that have gone up from 5 to 10 cents overnight, but then you might go five blocks away and it’s only gone up 3 or 4 cents,” said Tiffany Wright, AAA Carolinas spokeswoman in Charlotte.
Gas prices often are based on fear and nervousness, she said. “We have a ton of supply here in the United States, so all we really should be seeing is a reshuffling, if you will, behind the scenes of distribution. The problem is, there are those motorists who are changing their behavior.
“It’s the old milk and bread thing that occurs whenever there’s a snowstorm. The demand outweighs the supply. Unfortunately, motorists getting nervous and panicking is actually what’s exacerbating the problem.”
The lowest reported gas prices in the Columbia area Monday afternoon varied from $1.88 at the Gasway on Rosewood Drive at S. Edisto Ave. to $1.99 at the BP on Blossom Street at Huger Street, according to GasBuddy.com.