DURHAM, N.C. - Gasoline is becoming a hot commodity in the southeastern U.S. as frustrated Americans desperately search to fill up their vehicles after a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, leading to long lines at gas stations and sparking governors to warn against panic buying.
Nick LaGrange, 33, of Durham, North Carolina, drove 30 minutes to fill up his 2017 Jeep Wrangler ahead of a road trip to Tennessee.
"I really had no choice," he told FOX Television Stations Wednesday. "I had to drive all the way out there. Fortunately, there was gas. That gas station out there was getting very packed, but I was able to get right in."
LaGrange said he turned to the GasBuddy smartphone app to find a gas station. The app allows users to search for gas prices by city and state. The company said it has now activated its emergency fuel availability tracker to allow users to notify others which gas stations still have fuel.
"We’ve activated it a couple of times before and especially during hurricanes," company spokesperson Allison Mac told FOX Television Stations. "With this current situation with the pipeline, we activated that as well because people are running out of gas and people are looking for places to fill up."
Waze is also helping drivers look for gas stations. Users can click on the gas pump icon and the app will map out the nearest operating gas stations with prices. Drivers can also search for a preferred brand of gasoline.
Geico also has a tool that lets drivers know which gas stations still have fuel and at what price.
But LaGrange cautions that the information can quickly become outdated as some apps rely on other drivers to update information.
"I think I went to three different ones here in Durham that the app showed had gas," he said after having no luck when first using GasBuddy.
The company has posted a disclaimer on its website.
"The information is crowdsourced," Mac said. "When it comes to data that is crowdsourced, it’s not always 100% correct. So that’s why we have been doing our due diligence, really encouraging people to report what they see."
The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of what is consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure.
The pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region, but states in the Southeast are more reliant on the pipeline for fuel.
There is no gasoline shortage, according to government officials and energy analysts, but if the pipeline shutdown continues past the weekend, it could create broader fuel disruptions.
"What you’re feeling is not a lack of supply or a supply issue. What we have is a transportation issue," said Jeanette McGee, spokeswoman for the AAA auto club. "There is ample supply to fuel the United States for the summer, but what we’re having an issue with is getting it to those gas stations because the pipeline is down."
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 Tuesday.
Regardless, the concern has led to panic buying among many drivers. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday urged people to refrain from panic buying at gas stations, saying Alabama does not have a fuel shortage but that hoarding could create one.
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper urged people Wednesday to only buy gas if their tank is low and to report any instances of price gouging.
But that hasn’t stopped the long lines at the gas stations.
"People only need to take what they need," LaGrange added. "That’s the whole issue here, people taking more than they need which is actually causing a shortage."
As of Wednesday, GasBuddy reported North Carolina had 65% of its gas stations without fuel, the highest percentage. Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia followed with 42% of their gas stations out of supply.
Governors in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia have now declared states of emergencies.
Multiple U.S. agencies are coordinating efforts to avert any potential shortage, should they arise.
The White House said Wednesday that the Department of Transportation is now allowing Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to use interstate highways to transport overweight loads of gasoline and other fuels under existing disaster declarations.
However, the disruption is taking place at the time of year when Americans begin to become more mobile, especially as the nation emerges from the pandemic.
The national average price for a gallon of gasoline ticked above $3 for the first time since 2016 Wednesday, according to the AAA auto club. Prices begin to rise around this time every year and the AAA auto club said Wednesday that the average price hit $3.008 nationally.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.