Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency late Tuesday evening in response to gasoline shortages caused the shutdown of a major pipeline by hackers.
In Monroe County, motorists could only watch as local gas stations have run out of gasoline and prices have started to increase.
While drivers in Key West have dealt with prices above $3 a gallon for regular gas over the past few months during the island’s busy season, the state average rose to $2.88 a gallon, while the average price of gas in the Florida Keys rose to $2.95 a gallon. The nation average on Wednesday was $3.08, according to AAA’s gas prices website.
This time last year, during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic, gasoline prices averaged $1.74 in the state.
The Colonial Pipeline, the biggest fuel pipeline in the U.S., delivering about 45% of what is consumed on the East Coast, was hit Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. A large part of the pipeline resumed operations manually late Monday, and Colonial anticipates restarting most of its operations by the end of the week, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.
The executive order signed by DeSantis activates the Florida National Guard, as needed, and directs state emergency management officials to work with federal and local officials.
More than 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast reported running out of fuel, primarily because of what analysts say is unwarranted panic-buying among drivers.
“It’s likely that motorists are seeing reports about supply issues in other states — due to the pipeline — and are racing out to top off their tanks,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman with auto club group. “The problem is that surge in demand is what actually creates the supply issue, since gas stations can only hold so much fuel at a given time.”
Florida is not heavily reliant on the Colonial Pipeline. Ninety percent of Florida’s gasoline flows in through the state’s ports on cargo ships. That gasoline is then driven to the pumps on tanker trucks.
“This is not a refinery issue. Gasoline is still being made and fuel continues sailing through Florida ports, regardless of whether Colonial Pipeline is operational,” Jenkins said. “Florida is said to have access to plenty of gasoline. It’s now just a matter of getting the fuel where it’s needed, primarily those gas stations that are being tapped out due to panic buying.”
Government officials acted swiftly after the hacking to waive safety and environmental rules to speed the delivery of fuel by truck, ship or rail to motorists and airports, even as they sought to assure the public that there was no cause for alarm.
Motorists may still feel a crunch because it takes a few days to ramp up operations, but U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there is no reason to hoard gasoline.
“We know that we have gasoline; we just have to get it to the right places,” she said.
Throughout Florida, drivers faced long lines and limited selection, and 3% of gas stations had run out.
Dave Gussak drove from one station to the next in Tallahassee, Florida, in search of gas, seeing a line nearly a mile long at the pumps outside a Costco. He eventually passed a station with gas on the way to Florida State University where he works.
“This is insane,” he said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.