The Colonial Pipeline is flowing once again, but Charlottesville-area residents will not see gas availability return to normal immediately.
After a six-day shutdown caused by a ransomware attack, the company announced Wednesday that it is resuming operations and “will move as much gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.”
But the pipeline company, and local distributors, are saying it will take time for service to get back up to speed.
Gordon Sutton, president of Tiger Fuel, which has gas stations across the Charlottesville area, said the pipeline coming back online doesn’t mean this problem gets solved overnight.
“I would liken it to filling up an Olympic swimming pool with a garden hose,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to get caught back up before things get to normal.”
About 80% of the area’s supply comes from that pipeline, Sutton said, and there has been a lot of misinformation going around about issues resulting from the shutdown.
“The panic buying is very unhelpful, but it’s not the cause of the problem. The problem is a legitimate one,” he said. “It’s a major league and serious supply disruption. We’ve not seen anything like this in the 40 years we’ve been around.”
“People are calling me and asking me: Is it safe to travel to the beach? And I’m saying, no, I don’t think it’s safe,” he said. “I think there’s a great chance you’ll get stranded and the resource is so precious at this moment that I think that kind of travel is ill advised.”
Sutton said Tiger Fuel’s focus is on supplying product to first responders and those delivering food. The company sent all of its employees home who could work from home so that they weren’t burning fuel unnecessarily.
“We don’t want people wasting a resource commuting if they don’t have to,” he said. “I think it is serious enough that we all need to change our behaviors until this thing smooths out a little bit.”
Wawa, a convenience store and gas station, will open two locations in Albemarle County at 8 a.m. Thursday. Adam Schall, Wawa’s senior director of store operations, said the locations on Pantops and on U.S. 29 have fuel in the ground, and they will do their best to stay in stock.
“We know that it’s critical that we stay open, and we’re exploring and doing anything possible to stay open because the community is relying on us — emergency responders and house doctors and all. They need us to be open with fuel to be able to live and do their lives, and that’s a great privilege/responsibility that we view it as. We wear it as a badge of honor.”
Gas prices in Virginia have climbed an average of 11 cents per gallon over the last two days, to $2.87, according to AAA.
In the Charlottesville area, the average price per gallon was $2.86 on Wednesday, up six cents from Tuesday. Last month, the average was $2.70 per gallon, AAA said.
Gordon said Tiger Fuel plans on “holding tight” on prices, unless its costs skyrocket, which they have not yet. He said that starting Thursday, at some locations, they are going to test limiting customers to 20 gallons per purchase.
“What we want to avoid are the people that show up with a pickup truck full of gas cans and sort of selfishly take as much as they can get access to,” he said.
Fluvanna County Public Schools canceled in-person classes Wednesday because of the state of emergency, though the division didn’t specify which emergency in its social media post. Fluvanna students will be in schools for the rest of this week.
Local school divisions are monitoring the situation. The Albemarle County division currently has enough supplies on hand to fuel buses. Some county teachers, though, were told to prepare for a potential switch to all-virtual classes in case staff and parents didn’t have enough gas to travel to school.
As of press time, no other area school divisions have plans to suspend in-person classes, according to Daily Progress news partner NBC29.
In a tweet, Jaunt said the transit agency will again modify service Thursday and cancel all of its rural, CONNECT and non-critical ADA trips to reserve fuel to be able to provide essential trips such as for dialysis and crucial doctor’s appointments.
The run on gas has not fueled changes to the University of Virginia’s plans to celebrate graduations over the next two weekends, but officials are watching the situation and preparing for possible disruptions.
Students living in UVa housing who find themselves stranded without transportation due to the disruption are eligible for an emergency extension.
“We share student and family concerns about gas shortages and moving out of on-Grounds housing,” officials with the UVa Housing and Residence Life division said in a Wednesday tweet. “Given current circumstances and the state of emergency declared by Gov. Ralph Northam, we are monitoring the situation closely.”
UVa officials said emergency requests to stay in housing past May 15 will be considered.
“Residents not approved for late-stay housing should plan on departing by May 15 at 5 p.m., but those without transportation should email firstname.lastname@example.org with an emergency late stay request, which we will review and respond to as quickly as possible,” the tweet stated.
Across Grounds, UVa departments are cutting fuel consumption as much as is practical.
“We are taking steps to conserve and ration fuel so that university operations are minimally impacted,” said Brian T. Coy, UVa spokesman. “Right now, our plans for graduation and other university operations are unaffected.”
Coy said officials recommend anyone traveling to UVa monitor local conditions and make plans to ensure they have enough fuel.
“University employees who are experiencing transportation disruptions should reach out to their managers for guidance,” Coy said.