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Was the gas shortage caused by the Colonial Pipeline shutdown?


The VERIFY team investigated claims related to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown and subsequent gas shortage.

Colonial Pipeline, which transports roughly 45% of fuel consumed on the East Coast, announced on May 8 that it would be halting operations after a ransomware attack by criminal hacking group Darkside forced the company to go offline.

The days-long outage led to panic-buying, leaving a number of gas stations empty and prompting others to hike their prices.

The VERIFY team investigated claims related to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown and the subsequent gas shortage as part of our “VERIFY Weekly” feature. Watch the video on our YouTube page here.

THE QUESTION

Was the Colonial Pipeline hack the only reason for a gasoline shortage?

THE SOURCES

  • Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing (NACS)
  • GasBuddy

THE ANSWER

No, the Colonial Pipeline hack was not the only reason for a gasoline shortage. 

WHAT WE FOUND

While the Colonial Pipeline shutdown did cause a temporary halt in gas distribution, an ongoing shortage in fuel tanker drivers, a switch in seasonal fuel blends and panic-buying are all reasons why many people saw high prices and long lines for gas.

In an email to the VERIFY team, Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic initiatives for NACS, said, “Technically, what we are experiencing is not a shortage, but an issue related to distribution.”

In a May 12 update, NACS wrote that even though Colonial Pipeline had resumed operations, there could be a delay of more than two weeks for fuel to move from Texas to New York, so shortages might continue through the end of the month before returning to normal.

Another factor contributing to the shortage is the time of year because stations are switching from winter-blend fuels to summer-blend fuels, which are pricier because of a longer production process.

And lastly, drivers stocking up on huge amounts of fuel is also a big reason for the shortage.

“Panic buying or hoarding of gasoline will prolong outages and price spikes, making them much worse,” GasBuddy, an app and website that monitors fuel prices and savings, said in a May 9 blog post.

THE QUESTION

Did the Colonial Pipeline shutdown only affect Republican-leaning states?

THE SOURCES

  • Ken Medlock, senior director from Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
  • Patrick De Haan, analyst from GasBuddy.

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, the Colonial Pipeline shutdown did not just impact Republican-leaning states.

WHAT WE FOUND

A Facebook post shared more than 300 times implies the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, and subsequent gas shortage, only affected Republican-leaning states.

The whole pipeline covers approximately 5,500 miles, between Texas and New Jersey, and while it passes through reliably Republican states like Alabama and Mississippi, it also stretches to Democrat-leaning and moderate states such as Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. The pipeline also crosses swing states such as Georgia and Pennsylvania.

There are some inaccuracies on the map used in the post. The map skews Electoral College results, with Georgia and Virginia both labeled as red, though they were blue in the 2020 election. The map also listed six states as “blue states” that former President Donald Trump won in 2020.

But it’s not just the map’s labels that are incorrect. Experts say politics didn’t have anything to do with the shortage.

“This has NOTHING to do with politics or red-blue designations,” said Ken Medlock, senior director from Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

Patrick De Haan, an analyst from GasBuddy, agrees.

“Areas served by the pipeline, regardless of what side of the aisle they’re on, are encountering the same issues,” he said. “Very similar price impacts. There is not an outlying situation where I can say politics is behind outages or price.”

THE QUESTION

Was a woman seen recently filling plastic bags with gasoline amid the supply shortage?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, a video of a woman filling plastic bags with gasoline was not taken during the recent gasoline shortage. The video was taken in 2019.

WHAT WE FOUND

The original video was posted by a man named Jason Rudison in December 2019, but resurfaced recently with social media users incorrectly claiming the woman was reacting to the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack. Facebook has since labeled the video as “false information.”

But regardless of when it happened, we can also VERIFY that it’s not safe to use plastic bags like that to store gasoline. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission put it bluntly in a tweet.

“Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline.”

Instead, use only containers approved for gasoline storage, the commission said.

More from VERIFY: No, putting sugar into the gas tank does not ruin a car’s engine

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