Gas shortages and rising costs at the pump often are rife with lessons, the first of which is: Don’t panic. Unfortunately, we never seem to remember what we learn from the last gas crisis.
The cause of a new gasoline shortage, which has affected millions of customers in South Carolina and much of the Southeast, is not a cutback in oil exploration, dictates from OPEC, a hurricane or a huge spike in demand. In this case, it’s a busted pipeline in Alabama.
But the pipeline happens to be crucial to the supply of fuel for 50 million people on the East Coast, and the leak is significant – more than 336,000 gallons. As a result, service stations have been running out of gas, and owners aren’t sure when fresh supplies will be trucked in.
Stations with gas to sell are becoming scarcer, and prices have inched up. AAA Carolinas reported that South Carolina’s average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas has increased to $2.04, up from $1.91 last week.
The situation has drivers frantically scurrying around, trying to find gas. Station operators report that people not only are filling up their vehicles but also gas cans and other receptacles.
This anxiety probably is unnecessary for most drivers. Gas suppliers say fuel for the region will be supplemented from another pipeline. The damaged pipeline is being repaired, and shipments through that line are expected to resume sometime this week.
So, as noted, don’t panic. Buying more gas than your are likely to need in the next few days just makes the situation worse.
Also, storing gasoline in anything but a proper gas can is extremely dangerous.
But there is at least one other lesson to be learned from this or any gas shortage: We, as a nation, are so highly dependent on fossil fuels in maintaining what we regard as normal life that we are incredibly vulnerable to a disruption in the gas supply. Even this relatively minor and temporary hiccup in the gas supply has incited a frenzy.
It’s a wonder that terrorists have not figured out how much mayhem they could cause with strategic attacks on the nation’s gas supplies. These attacks would not result in high body counts, but they clearly could cause widespread disorder and unhinge the daily routines of millions of Americans.
We’re not certain that federal or state governments have contingencies for that beyond keeping the nation’s strategic oil reserves topped off. The threat, however, makes electric cars begin to look a little more attractive.