As it bears down on North and South Carolina, Hurricane Florence has already begun to impact gas stations’ fuel availability, but has had minimal impact on gas prices.
Since Sunday, coastal metropolitan areas have seen gas prices jump, on average, two cents.
“Right now it’s not possible to predict how quickly fuel supplies can be replenished until we see what areas are impacted the most by Hurricane Florence, “ said Tiffany Wright, an AAA Carolinas spokesperson. “Once the storm passes and damage is assessed, we will have a better idea of when supplies can get back to normal.”
There are at least five fuel terminals combined in Charleston, S.C. and Wilmington, N.C. These terminals supply a bulk of the gasoline to the coastal Carolinas.
Officials expect to temporarily or partially shut down the terminals due to the hurricane. Any type of shutdown will further tighten fuel levels in the area and the ability to deliver post-hurricane.
For the areas directly impacted by the storm, the largest potential threat to gasoline supplies is the risk of disrupted pipeline operations because of power outages or flood-related damage to pumps.
Two major pipelines — the Colonial Pipeline and Kinder Morgan's Plantation Pipe Line — run mostly through the inlands of the Carolinas.
These pipelines can carry a mix of transportation fuels, including gasoline and jet fuel, home heating oil, and other refined petroleum products--much of which goes to terminals in SC and NC.
Flooding and power outages resulting from Hurricane Florence have the potential to knock out parts of these pipelines. Local, state and federal officials will monitor operations of the pipelines and if needed, take shut down precautions.
Should operations continue as normal (no shutdowns), these pipelines can expedite fuel supplies to hurricane-impacted areas once power is restored and roads are passable.
In the event that one or both of the pipelines are closed, it is likely that the markets they serve along the East Coast will pull gasoline supplies from other terminals and ports to meet demand.