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Gas shortage could last 'weeks' despite Colonial Pipeline restart: expert

Despite the Colonial Pipeline system getting back online, motorists are still draining gas stations, and it may take "weeks" until gasoline supply returns to normal, warns GasBuddy’s senior petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan.

“This situation has spiraled out of control,” De Haan told Yahoo Finance Live. “It's kind of like a game of whack-a-mole where stations fill up their inventories, and then people decimate the inventory. I don't think that's going to stop for a week, maybe two weeks, and then fully back to normal in three to four weeks.”

The Colonial Pipeline system, which is the primary gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel pipeline serving the East Coast, initiated the restart of operations Wednesday around 5 p.m. ET, but warned in a statement that some markets could experience “intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period.”

Numerous vehicles line up for gasoline at Costco on Wendover Avenue in Greensboro, N.C., on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. As the shutdown of a major fuel pipeline entered into its fifth day, efforts are under way to stave off potential fuel shortages, though no widespread disruptions were evident. The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit by a cyberattack on Friday. (Woody Marshall/News & Record via AP)
Numerous vehicles line up for gasoline at Costco on Wendover Avenue in Greensboro, N.C., on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Woody Marshall/News & Record)

As of Thursday morning, nearly three-quarters of gasoline stations in North Carolina were out of gasoline, according to GasBuddy, while about half in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina ran dry.

De Haan warns those numbers may drift higher over the next 48 hours before starting to retreat.

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Consumers hoarding gas are worsening the situation. Supply issues from the Colonial Pipeline outage is not causing the gas shortage, said De Haan, rather it’s a result of panic buying that’s further compounded by a trucker shortage.

“A lot of this is the fact that motorists have decided to hoard gasoline and in some cases are starting to panic," he said. "It's become a race to refuel, and of course, that's where the trucker shortage comes in. It's just impossible to see the amount of trucks replenish after motorists have increased their demand to fill up because of the panic.”

“It’s going to be a challenge to resupply these stations. The kink in the chain is not the Colonial Pipeline but getting the fuel delivered to those stations. There’s just not enough truckers and there’s not enough capacity for all those trucks to fill up at the same time.... Even if the Colonial Pipeline was operating [over the past week], this type of demand could strain the system,” added De Haan.

A surge in demand has pushed gasoline prices higher. The national average jumped above $3 a gallon on Thursday to $3.03, the most expensive since November 2014.

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance Live’s 3-5 p.m. ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith