This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Bill Holtzman's last name.
Worried about a possible gas shortage following last week’s cyberattack on a major East Coast pipeline, motorists flooded local gas stations on Wednesday to fill up their tanks — and sometimes any other receptacle they could find.
“At one point today, we had 91 stations out of gas,” said Bill Holtzman, owner of Holtzman Propane at 5534 Main St., Mount Jackson. “The problem is people are panicking, and they’re going and filling up everything they can think of, and that just makes the problem worse.”
Holtzman urged people not to panic, not to overbuy and to recognize that the gas shortage will be short-lived.
The Colonial Pipeline, which serves multiple states from New Jersey to Georgia plus Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, was affected after a computer hack closed off access to its valves. Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday declared a state of emergency.
On Wednesday evening, Colonial announced the pipeline had been restarted. "[A]ll lines, including those lateral lines that have been running manually, will return to normal operations,” the company said in a statement. But it will take several days for deliveries to return to normal, the company said.
“The good news is that the structure is fine,” said Bob Claytor, president and CEO of H.N. Funkhouser at 2150 Loudoun St., Winchester, which serves gas stations around the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
The bad news, Claytor added, is that drivers concerned about not having enough fuel are overreacting and buying up far more fuel than they need over the next few days.
“It’s like when they make a run on water or bread at the grocery stores,” Claytor said. “This is a short-term problem, but they’re thinking it’s going to be forever.”
On Tuesday, he said gas stations serviced by H.N Funkhouser saw a 300% rise in business.
Claytor recalled seeing someone adding a gallon and a half of gas to a nearly full tank.
Other residents, he said, purchased 40 to 50 gallons at a time, “and we know they don’t need it,” Claytor said.
Farther south, Holtzman said he saw someone drive in from West Virginia to fill a gasoline tote that holds 100 gallons.
Many gas stations around the region were either out of gas Wednesday or were running out.
The Red Apple Exxon station at 1 S. Buckmarsh St. in Berryville had closed its gasoline pumps, and at the 7-Eleven Exxon on Va. 7 west of town, motorists lined up at the three open pumps to wait their turn, some filling only their car’s tank and others carrying plastic gas containers from their trunks and hatchbacks.
In Strasburg, the J&R Mart Citgo station at 361 W. King St. ran out of gas on Tuesday with no immediate plans for refueling, said manager Syed Hasan.
Expecting a shipment of fuel on Wednesday, he said the pipeline closure delayed the shipment, affecting sales in the convenience store as well.
Calling business on Wednesday “pretty bad,” he said he’d seen about 25% of his usual business since customers weren’t stopping by.
The opposite was true on Tuesday when he recalled the first shift alone brought about $500 in gas sales compared to the usual $40 or $50.
“That’s why I’m out of gas,” he said. “Yesterday, when [the governor] declared the state of emergency, people all panicked.”
Addressing the issue at a Tuesday night meeting, Strasburg Interim Town Manager Jay McKinley told the Town Council that Holtzman didn’t expect to see any gas from the pipeline flowing into the area until Friday at the earliest or next week at the latest.
Strasburg town staff have been directed not to use any additional fuel until they know how bad the situation will be. The town is trying to get a 500-gallon storage tank to use at the Public Works Department to keep emergency vehicles going.
"I'm a little bit worried, but we're being precautious, and I think we're putting measures in place should that happen to us,” McKinley said.
Strasburg Mayor Brandy Boies advised people not to panic so those who need fuel, such as first responders, can have it.
Shenandoah County Public Schools on Wednesday announced the cancellation of all extracurricular and field trip travel until further notice because of the shortage of fuel for its buses.
Aarea businesses have also been affected, such as Todd Cooper’s Landscaping out of Front Royal, which owner Todd Cooper said services about 120 properties around town.
If the gas shortage continues into next week, he plans to reach out to a buddy who has a 250-gallon gas tank.
Landscaper Louie Garcia said the company is mindful of the gas shortage. The company filled up its cans and machines on Tuesday and should be OK until the end of the week, he said.
The shortage reminded him of last year’s toilet paper panic buying during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Hope we get some gas soon," Garcia said.
Though Claytor expects the pipeline to be back up and running soon, he foresees “a few ramifications over the next week” as gas tankers refill terminals that are uncharacteristically empty.
“It’s a crazy issue right this moment, and again it’s caused by people hoarding and making irrational decisions,” he said.
“There’s going to be outages,” Holtzman agreed. But he said refueling efforts are already reaching area gas stations.
Instead of hauling gas from their usual locations like Roanoke, Manassas, and Fairfax, Claytor said they’ve turned to locations in Baltimore and Pennsylvania that pull from other pipelines.
The refueling process is ongoing, and Holtzmann said residents can expect some stations that were out of gas this morning to be fueled again, if only temporarily, by afternoon.
“We’re getting the product as fast as we can.”
Reporter Charles Paullin contributed to this report.