Panic-buying leads to long lines at some SWFL gas stations

From Charlotte to Lee to Collier, long lines of cars and yellow bags on pumps could be seen Wednesday as people filled up their tanks, afraid a gas shortage is on the way due to a pipeline shutdown.

It’s a sight familiar to those who have lived in Southwest Florida during hurricane season, but this time, officials say there is no reason to stock up on fuel – unless, of course, you need it.

But if you do need to fill up, bring some patience with you. Gas stations are busy, and you should take just what you need to top off your tank. It’s important to remember the pipeline that was hacked doesn’t supply much of our fuel here in Southwest Florida.

Colonial said service was restarted at 5 p.m. Wednesday, but it may take a few days for the supply line to get back to normal.

Some drivers in Cape Coral were greeted with lines and ‘out of service’ signs at stations when they tried to gas up.

“It’s getting scary already,” said John Powell.

“Oh, gas station to gas station. The four of them around my house, no gas,” said Nicolette Aiken.

The gasoline games are on in Cape Coral.

“It’s crazy. This is the third store I had to come to. People are panicking for no reason,” said Micheal Troy.

Many gas stations ran out of regular fuel.

“I guess I didn’t realize that it was going to be such an issue because they were talking on the news that it was not going to be a problem, that we were going to be OK, but apparently not. It’s like hurricane season is coming in,” said Sabine Damoiseau of North Fort Myers.

“I think they’re thinking toilet paper and they want to get their gas,” Troy said.

Some said they haven’t seen lines this long at gas stations since the 70s.

“The Arab oil embargo of ’73 where you had your license plate. You either had to get gas on an even or odd day,” Troy recalled.

They’re worried the lines are only going to get longer.

“It’s moving but how long is this gonna last with all these people?” Aiken wondered.

Not all stations are experiencing shortages but the City of Cape Coral is asking people to fuel up responsibly. Don’t hoard gas and don’t create long lines at stations.

They also want you to report any price gouging to the state’s hotline. You can call 866-966-7226 or submit your complaint online.

GasBuddy has a tool that lets you check gas station outages. Simply enter a ZIP code or city name.

Taylor Petras reporting from Cape Coral

We spoke to an Uber driver in Fort Myers who waited in a bunch of long lines for gas Wednesday. He told us he had to go to multiple gas stations so he could perform his job.

“This reminds me of when the pandemic started with the toilet paper, the wipes,” Uber driver Patrick Hoffman said. “Everybody is going crazy. These gas stations might end up having to do restrictions.”

Hoffman doesn’t understand why so many Floridians are rushing to the pump. He says, if there is a gas shortage, we did it to ourselves.

“I was at the airport, and there were people with 5 gallons filling them up,” Hoffman said. “I saw one with three or four and putting them in their trunk, and that’s just ridiculous.”

“I feel like every time something like this happens, people start rushing the pumps,” Cameron Millang said. “I feel like it’s unnecessary. People start taking more than they need, and that kind of makes the problem more than what it is even from the start.”

Hoffman picked up Uber again because he was laid off during this pandemic. He said panic buying is posing a real threat to his new livelihood.

“If I don’t have gas, then, I can’t drive, and I can’t pay my bills,” Hoffman said.

Now that gas is flowing through the pipeline again, Hoffman hopes the long lines, the empty pumps and panic end soon.

– Andryanna Sheppard reported from Fort Myers 

Businesses feeling the impact

The run on fuel is impacting businesses in Southwest Florida. With so many fleets of vehicles on the road and the long lines for gas, local companies are bound to be a little behind.

Concerned? Not so much. Slowed down? Definitely, but they’re working to stay ahead of the game.

Some businesses that spoke with WINK News said they gave their guys in the trucks new rules: If you have a quarter of a tank or half a tank, just take the time, get in line and fill up.

Businesses have one goal, and that’s to get the job done and take care of their customers. Now they have to do that while worrying about keeping their tanks full.

Daniel Jennings, the owner of Gator Drain and Plumbing, said it’s taking “probably an hour of labor per day” just waiting in lines to get gas.

He has a fleet of nine trucks, so that waiting really adds up.

“It’s tough because we usually have a route that we put the guys on, so they have maybe 20 minutes between jobs and now we’re going from a 20 minute per job to maybe an hour and a half, so instead of doing six to eight jobs a day, we’re doing four to five.”

His company is prioritizing problems.

“The customer that has no water or the customer that has sewer backup, you know, they’re the first, and if you have a small leak on a sink then most people are understandable, and they understand it’s going to be the next day or two days until we get there.”

Robert Daniel with Pool Doctor said they’ve kept their fleet of 55 trucks topped off and they’re optimistic the problem isn’t here to stay.

“A lot of the gas shortage situation here is more of a fear, kind of a panic, but I think we’ll be OK. They’re supposed to have that gone by the weekend, but you got to be safe, you know, better safe than sorry.”

One thing these businesses said has helped out is understanding customers, but one issue they’ve run into is at the gas pumps. They said some people won’t let the trucks in or they’ll block them from the pump, slowing down their service to get the job done.

Gail Levy reporting from Cape Coral

How the fuel supply gets to SWFL

Our gas doesn’t come from the pipeline that sparked all the panic buying. Tallahassee is the only area of Florida that the impacted line serves.

Still, people are worried a gas shortage will strike our area; officials say that panic is unnecessary.

“Here in Florida, the transportation of gasoline continues just as it normally does,” said Mark Jenkins with AAA.

“Fuel is continuing to move around our state,” said Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services.

The Colonial refinery is in Texas. Its pipeline goes up to New Jersey and services much of the East Coast – but only Tallahassee in Florida.

“Their gasoline is being supplemented from Jacksonville; a lot of gasoline being pulled in through the ports there for the Jacksonville market. But there are also truckloads that are now being driven two hours over to Tallahassee to make deliveries as well,” Jenkins said.

The majority of the rest of the state gets gas from the ports, according to Sheldon Weeks, Ph.D., an economist with Florida Gulf Coast University.

Ninety percent comes into our ports on both coasts from around the world.

“It’s flowing in through our ports. We have access to plenty of gasoline. It’s just that if people panic and they race out to the pumps, then you know it leaves gas stations on empty and they’ll have to wait until the next delivery comes,” Jenkins said.

So, to make a long story short: “The major takeaway here is that this is not a gasoline production issue. This is a gasoline transportation issue. And it’s an issue mainly for people in Georgia and north of us,” Jenkins said.

Morgan Rynor reporting

Reporter:Taylor Petras
Andryanna Sheppard
Gail Levy
Morgan Rynor
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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