Okaloosa County's gas shortages are being driven by panic buying

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE — Call it Toilet Paper II.

Drivers were lining up at gas stations across Okaloosa County on Tuesday to fuel up their vehicles in apparent anticipation of shortages brought on by a disruption of petroleum distribution due to the shutdown of the biggest oil pipeline in the United States.

Is there a worker shortage? 'No one wants to work any more': Employers say too much stimulus, too few willing workers

You may also like:Build it and they will come: Crestview's housing boom not slowing

It was a knee-jerk reaction to media reports about the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack. 

"We have plenty of fuel," said Patrick Maddox, Okaloosa County's director of public safety.

Like the rest of Florida, Okaloosa receives its fuel by barge, and the Citgo hub in Niceville where the gasoline is offloaded for distribution had plenty of inventory Tuesday, according to Maddox.  

"There is a temporary slowdown in the actual transportation of the product," Maddox said.

A man filled multiple gas cans at the Murphy Express at Beal Parkway and Racetrack Road as lines started to grow at numerous gas stations around Fort Walton Beach.

Just as toilet paper disappeared from grocery store shelves at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the high demand for gasoline was creating lines at stations like Murphy Express at the intersection of Beal Parkway and Racetrack Road.

"The big problem came to be when the media began broadcasting 'fuel shortage' and folks reacted as they would in any shortage,” Maddox said. "The panic in receiving the news has led to a run on fuel which has temporarily eclipsed the delivery rate, resulting in some stations running out of fuel."

The closing of the Colonial Pipeline due to a cyberattack has certainly proven disruptive in other places. The pipeline runs for 5,500 miles and carries hundreds of millions of gallons of fuel each day from Texas to the Eastern Seaboard. It is responsible for 45% of East Coast fuel consumption, the Associated Press has reported.

The shutdown had reached five days Tuesday, but officials at the Alpharetta, Georgia-based company were hoping to reopen by the weekend. If that is so, there shouldn't be any actual impact on local supplies.

Cars crowd the turn lane into Murphy Express at Beal Parkway and Racetrack Road. Lines have started to lengthen at numerous gas stations around Fort Walton Beach.

Okaloosa County spokeswoman April Sarver said the Citgo hub has advised county officials that an adequate supply of gasoline remains for the time being and "there are mitigation efforts in progress."

Maddox did say the Public Safety Department has sent out early warning material to first responders and to critical personnel like airport and public works employees.

"We have been in touch with the Florida Department of Emergency Management, who is also monitoring the situation," he said.