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NC's Gov. Easley suspends all nonessential government travel

“We are not out of gas, but we are running low. It’s very difficult to figure out how much supply is left, and that’s why I’m asking people to conserve today, not tomorrow.”

— Gov. Mike Easley, in a statement on the effect of delivery delays from the hurricane, causing shortages in the Tar Heel state’s gas supply

“We are hoping that the Department of Energy will take some action as soon as possible. I have tried to get direction from DOE, but they have not yet responded.”

— Easley, on getting flipped the bird by the Bush admin, from that same statement to the media

Governor Easley is bringing down the hammer. He announced that he:

* asked North Carolina residents to wait for more information before deciding whether to make Labor Day travel plans.
* banned all nonessential state government travel
* is asking state employees to carpool wherever possible
* asked the U.S. Department of Energy to waive a rule that requires metropolitan areas to use only cleaner-burning fuel in the summer months here.

Easley has the power to require rationing of gas by consumers, but he has not announced that yet. (WRAL video here, article here)

At the Kroger grocery store near my house (it has a gas station and customers get a three-cent discount), on Tuesday gas was $2.59, I think; we drove by it last night and it was $2.99. According to today’s Raleigh News and Observer, it ran out of gas.

“The pipeline from the Gulf Coast clear up to Baltimore is shut down,” said Steve Sheetz, chairman of Sheetz convenience stores, an Altoona, Pa., company with three area locations. The pipeline is intact, but there is no electricity to run it.

Some of the refineries might be back online within a week or two, but it’s not known when the pipeline will be back to full capacity. About 90 percent of the Southeast’s gasoline comes through that pipeline. Concern about shortages and higher prices led many drivers to top off their tanks Tuesday and Wednesday. That caused some stations to run out of gas.

The BJ’s Wholesale Club in Cary shut down its pumps about 5:30 p.m. after it sold out. The Kroger in Durham on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard ran out of regular gas about an hour later. And the Hess on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh posted “Sold Out” signs on its pumps about 7 p.m. but got a new shipment before 9 p.m.

In the Durham Herald-Sun, there’s more on what’s happening here.

Hank Hurd, the Durham school system’s associate superintendent for administrative services, said the school district only has enough diesel fuel on hand to run its fleet of 266 buses for the next week or so. About 60 percent of the Durham school system’s 31,000 students ride buses to and from school each day, Hurd said. “I don’t want to overreact until we have a chance to ascertain what our inventory levels are and what this will mean to us,” he said. “But it’s going to be a very critical situation.”

“That’s scary,” said Renee Allen, a Hillsborough day care provider, on hearing about Easley’s announcement. “What are we going to do? I’m going to get some jugs and fill them up and stash them.”

Most people gassing up Wednesday evening at the Sam’s Club on Chapel Hill Boulevard weren’t yet aware of the gas shortage, but they were aware that prices were rising dramatically. Even before the governor’s announcement, concerns about supply drove prices for midgrade and premium gas above $3 per gallon in Durham and across the Triangle. At some stations, even regular grade was priced at over $3.

The Wilco station on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chapel Hill ran out of regular gasoline Wednesday night. (N&O; staff photo — Ted Richardson).

George Spencer, 46, said he was watching CNN when he saw that gas prices hit more than $5 a gallon in Atlanta and decided to fill up. The Chapel Hill resident waited in line for about 21 minutes before making it to the pumps. “I was here [Wednesday] morning at 10 a.m. and there wasn’t a line,” said Spencer, noting how quickly the situation had changed.

…As darkness fell and a steady stream of cars continued to pull into the Exxon station on Academy Road, owner John Davis said he would have to shut off his pumps for the night. The station’s supply was getting low, he said, and he didn’t know when his next shipment would arrive.

… Gas was priced from $2.89 to $3.09 at the Town ‘n’ Country where the Weatherses fueled up. Prices increased 36 cents per gallon between Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, as Exxon upped its prices midday for the first time in recent memory, said store manager Amir Qaiser. “We expect it to go up even more overnight,” he said.

Rosa Weathers gazed across the street to the marquee at Citgo, where regular unleaded gas started at $3.09 and premium was priced at $3.29. “That’s just shocking,” she said.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding