The impending arrival of Hurricane Florence is driving up demand for gasoline, triggering an uptick in outages throughout the Charleston area and other parts of South Carolina.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, slightly more than 8 percent of the stations in the region were out of fuel compared to about 2.5 percent four hours earlier, according to the tracking service GasBuddy.
Gerry Britt, president of North Charleston-based petroleum distributor Cel Oil Products Inc., said the abrupt jump in demand led to delays at the North Charleston terminal where tanker trucks get refilled.
Also, road closings associated with the reversal of the eastbound lanes on Interstate 26 are making it more difficult for drivers to make deliveries, he said.
“It’s just timing,” Britt said.
Another issue is the chronic driver shortage within the industry, especially for trucking businesses that transport hazardous materials such as gasoline, said Michael Fields, executive director of the S.C. Petroleum Marketers Association.
"That kind of magnifies the situation," he said.
Fields said he had heard reports of "bull rushes" for gasoline around the state Monday night, leading to "spotty outages in the Lowcountry, as well as the Midlands."
"The good news is we're not having any terminal issues, which is where we can run into problems," he said. "That's when you start to see a lot of plastic bags covering pumps."
With demand rising, prices have increased modestly so far. A gallon of regular unleaded gas in the Charleston region is about $2.62 on Tuesday, an increase of about 6 cents from a week ago, according to AAA.
“Motorists can expect spikes in pump prices to be brief, but possibly dramatic,” AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said in a written statement.
Florence is expected to hit the coast between South Carolina and Virginia by the end of the week, potentially shutting distribution terminals in the mid-Atlantic. Colonial Pipeline, the main conduit for moving gasoline and diesel fuel from Houston to New York, runs through North Carolina, as does Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Plantation Pipeline.
"I do not believe Hurricane Florence will affect gas pricing outside of the three states," said Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst at GasBuddy. "Colonial Pipeline could lose power, and it may be difficult to find gas stations after the storm passes."