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Leaders urge people not to ‘panic buy’ gasoline

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 12:58 PM CDT
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ENTERPRISE, Ala. (WSFA) - News of a major pipeline being temporarily shutdown after a cyberattack has sent some people into a panic, buying up large amounts of gasoline out of fear.

That’s unnecessary, according to some city leaders and is reminiscent to shortages on items like toilet paper, bought out in large quantities as the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic began to set in a year ago.

In both instances, supplies have been available but artificial shortages are appearing because of the surge to buy much larger amounts than necessary.

Some gas stations in Montgomery, Auburn and other places around the state are putting bags over pumps after seeing their tanks emptied at faster rates.

In the southeast Alabama city of Dothan, a public request has been made via social media and it’s been shared more than 5,000 times in just four hours:

“We have been asked by the providers of fuel to plead for common sense.”

PUBLIC REQUEST Please refrain from panic purchasing of gas and diesel fuel over the next couple of weeks. Certainly...

Posted by City of Dothan Government on Tuesday, May 11, 2021

In neighboring Enterprise, the mayor is urging motorists not to overreact or to “panic buy.”

“Let’s get gas as needed,” Mayor William E. Cooper urged residents. He’s among a number of leaders across the South warning that these runs on gas stations can actually make the supply problem significantly worse.

Mayor Cooper said lines were long to get gas at local stations Tuesday morning and many were filling up extra gas cans and their vehicles.

Tensions are also running high. Cooper said his police department has responded to multiple calls overnight and into the morning hours of station customers getting into arguments while in line.

The issues started when Colonial Pipeline confirmed it was targeted by a cyberattack over the weekend and had to shut down its systems to mitigate the problem. Colonial’s pipes stretch from Texas to New Jersey and supply nearly half the fuel used on the East Coast.

Still, Colonial has stated that it has a restart plan and that it hopes to have service restored this week. While its main line is shut down, smaller lines have become operational.

Gov. Kay Ivey spoke with the U.S. Department of Energy about the cyberattack on a call Tuesday and said she was assured that the pipeline should be operational in a few days.

Ivey also urged Alabamians and others to not panic and to use good judgement. She cautioned that while a shortage has not reached Alabama at this point, overreaction would only lead to that.

WSFA 12 News spoke Tuesday with security expert Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence about the effects of the attack on Monday.

Kuehl said there will definitely be an impact on prices at the pump but added, “the question is how long?” He believes prices could climb to about $3 per gallon but it’s unclear how long it would stay in that range.

Anyone who feels they’ve witnessed price gouging in Alabama should call the state attorney general’s office and fill out a consumer complaint form.

The state attorney general’s office sent the following statement:

”Alabama’s price gouging law continues in effect until the end of the current state of emergency, July 6, 2021.  The price gouging law applies to any commodity or service for consumption or use as a direct result of the public health emergency.   While the disruption of gasoline supply is not directly related to the present public health emergency, gasoline is a necessary commodity.  Alabama law does not state what constitutes an unconscionable price, however, a price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days — unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost in connection with the sale of the commodity — is a prima facie case of unconscionable pricing.  For example, products reported for price gouging would be analyzed to determine if they rise 25 percent above average production and distribution costs, which can increase due to market forces.  Alabamians who want to file an illegal price gouging report may do so via the Alabama Attorney General’s Consumer Interest Division: https://www.alabamaag.gov/consumercomplaint or by calling 1-800-392-5658 to receive a form by mail to complete and return.”

Meanwhile, an investigation is underway to find those responsible for the cyberattack. The federal government is also taking steps to make sure the fuel supply remains stable.

Copyright 2021 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.