Despite steady supply, bottlenecks at Wilmington fuel terminals causing distribution delays

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 5:44 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Gas pumps around our viewing area have been running dry since the shutdown, and many have asked why there is a shortage here since there is so much fuel stored in tankers near the port. Those supplies have not been impacted by the Colonial Pipeline shutdown because that fuel gets here by ship.

The problem is bottlenecks. While the fuel supply to distributers in Wilmington has been steady, demand from truck drivers coming to Wilmington trying to fill up their fuel tanks has surged. Many of these truckers say they’d normally get gas from a distribution center in Selma. That’s in Johnston County, and it’s one of the busiest terminals on the Colonial Pipeline.

“Selma is out of fuel and out of gas. We’ve been struggling there all week. This is the first time I’ve come down here this week,” said driver Tony Honeycutt, who was heading to refuel stations in Clinton as soon as he could get through the five-hour line at Apex Oil Terminal on the Wilmington riverfront.

Truckers who spoke to WECT said some of the Wilmington-area gas stations get their fuel from Wilmington suppliers, but others find it more cost effective to truck it in from Selma and Smithfield when supplies are available. Now, stations who normally get their fuel supply from Wilmington are experiencing delays because fuel delivery drivers are spending more than half their day stuck in line.

“Normally I could come up here and load within 30 minutes. You know, getting in, hooking up, loading up and out of here in 30 minutes. But right now, it’s just a five-hour process,” driver Keith Pearce said.

WECT spoke to drivers taking fuel loads to Raleigh, Jacksonville, Fayetteville, and Myrtle Beach, along with drivers making local deliveries to Whiteville, Riegelwood, and Wilmington.

“There’s a lot of gas stations to service. So when the Colonial Pipeline went down it definitely affected us,” driver Buddy Harris said.

It’s also been difficult for delivery drivers stuck in line because most get paid by the load, not the hour. A five-hour delay significantly impacts their bottom line. But they said they certainly feel more appreciated lately. Employees from Springer-Eubank Oil Company were giving away boxed lunches to drivers stuck in line on Thursday. Honeycutt said he’d also been warmly welcomed by people at retail gas stations.

“They like seeing me when I show up — that is for sure. I went to a store the other day — there was no one there because they were out of gas — As soon as they saw the tanker in there, they started lining up. [They were asking], ‘Can I buy you a drink, can I buy you some chips?’ For the most part they are happy to see me right now,” Honeycutt told WECT.

While the Wilmington wholesale fuel supply is unaffected by the pipeline shutdown, the increased demand could still be problematic depending on how long it takes other wholesalers in the state to refill their reserves. Not all the trucks waiting in line at Wilmington’s Apex Oil terminal were delivering to retail gas stations. Some were also picking up fuel to supply construction and trucking companies that also need diesel to operate.

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