Commodities Corner: More than half of the gas stations in Wilmington, N.C., are out of fuel

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Markets/commodities reporter

Four states in the path of Hurricane Florence continue to experience shortages of gasoline, with more than half the stations in Wilmington, N.C., without fuel after Hurricane Florence made landfall on the coast of the Carolinas Friday, GasBuddy said.

Just over 56% of gas stations in Wilmington, and nearly 52% in the Greenville-New Bern-Washington, N.C., area were without fuel as of late Friday morning Eastern time, according to live updates from fuel-price tracker GasBuddy. North Carolina was indeed the hardest hit in terms of station outages, but South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia also saw some stations run short of fuel supplies.

See: live updates from GasBuddy on gasoline outages

The outages “paint a much more challenging situation that I would not have necessarily expected,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at fuel-price tracker GasBuddy, told MarketWatch on Friday.

The percentage loss in Wilmington is comparable to what some cities in Florida saw with Hurricane Irma in 2017, he said. At that time, the city with the highest percentage of stations at one point reached 71% in Gainesville.

“I would not have expected to see a number over 50% for any area during Florence, but it highlights the large number of [evacuations],” said DeHaan.

The average national price for regular unleaded gas, however, was at $2.857 a gallon Friday morning, little changed from Thursday’s average of $2.856 and up about half a cent from last week’s average of $2.852, GasBuddy reported. In North Carolina, the average price was at $2.684, up 1.7 cents from Thursday’s average.

“Gasoline availability has been a headache, but the good news is that supply has remained healthy,” said DeHaan.

“There is one potential concern,” and that is the Colonial Pipeline, DeHaan told MarketWatch. The pipeline carries gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, jet fuel and fuels for the military. It runs from Houston through 11 other states, including the Carolinas, before ending at Linden, N.J.

“There’s enough possibility” for a pipeline disruption and if the pipeline goes offline, that could delay North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia from returning to normal, DeHaan said. But “with Florence weakening, we may get lucky with lower odds of an issue.” The National Weather Service downgraded Florence to a Category 1 storm Friday morning as the storm made landfall.

Less demand destruction would be “life may resume faster, putting more pressure on supply than expected,” DeHaan said. “I still would not classify any price movements as large—just minor at best.”

And while it is a bit too early to speculate, DeHaan said he couldn’t imagine a rise any larger than five to 10 cents a gallon in the immediate South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia areas—”and even that’s unlikely.”

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