A Look At The Calendar May Help Explain Why The Latest Pipeline Breach Hasn't Caused Panic

Nov 4, 2016

This week's fatal explosion on the Colonial Pipeline does not appear to be causing widespread shortages at the fuel pump.

And a look at the calendar might help explain the difference between now and a related accident two months ago.

Why one pipeline disruption causes a run on gasoline and another doesn't is too complicated to boil down to a single reason.

But one important factor appears to be when the disruption occurs. The shortfall a few weeks ago — and the big shortage many Tennesseans will remember in 2008 — both happened in September.

That's right when gas stations are switching from lower-polluting summer blends to cheaper winter blends, says Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener.

"So their inventories are already low. In Tennessee, they were at 43 to 45 percent of normal capacity. This latest issue, retailers were at 100 percent and in good shape on supply."

In other words, gas stations had more fuel on hand to deal with any drivers who rushed to fill up after the latest shutdown. And that, in turn, made it less likely other drivers would panic.

But there could be other factors as well. TEMA says the recent explosion was actually easier for crews to reach than the leak in September. The state has temporarily allowed gas stations to bring fuel in from Louisville. And over the past few years, the amount of gasoline arriving in Nashville by barge has increased.

All things that could make the difference between a run on gas and business as usual.

TEMA says it's learned of only one station that's run short of fuel, in Columbia. State authorities also say they've received just five complaints of price gouging, though a spokesman noted restrictions on pricing don't even take effect unless there's a state of emergency.

The Colonial Pipeline is still closed and scheduled to reopen Sunday, but officials say there's no reason to think shortages will develop over the weekend — assuming drivers don't suddenly shift their buying habits.