CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Steve Baker laughed when I called him Tuesday afternoon.
“You guys got gas up there,” he asked.
I was hoping he’d be able to answer that question.
Baker is the spokesman for the Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Houston to New York City and is responsible for supplying most of Charlotte’s gasoline. The pipeline hooks into many of the refineries that shut down as Hurricane Isaac approached.
In 2008, when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike rolled through, refineries shut down, gas didn’t flow into the pipeline, and Charlotte was left with high prices and shortages.
Baker doesn’t think Isaac will do the same thing. For one thing, the storm’s not expected to impact refineries in Houston where the pipeline begins. On Tuesday afternoon, the pipeline was operating at 100 percent, and pipeline workers started preparing for the storm over the weekend.
Since the pipeline is underground, damage isn’t a concern. Power outages are.
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which disrupted the flow of gasoline to Charlotte, Colonial Pipeline bought eight large generators to keep the power on and the gas flowing.
“These are not the ones you get at Costco or Sam’s Club,” said Baker. “These are big flat-bed trucks.”
So if supply isn’t a problem, why are prices expected to go up?
Blame speculation, says Gary Harris, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum and Convenience Marketers. Like Baker, he’s not anticipating any shortages in Charlotte, and doesn't think Isaac will do a lot of damages to gulf coast refineries.
But since gasoline is a commodity, speculators and events like Isaac can spook investors and send prices up. Harris says oil prices went up on Thursday, Friday and Monday, but he hasn’t seen the impact trickle down to the price of gasoline. Yet.
Supply, Harris says, isn’t a problem. The United States is currently exporting refined gasoline. That wasn’t the case when hurricanes hit a few years ago, and Harris sees no reason to stock up on gas because of Isaac.
“If everybody keeps calm,” he said, “they should be fine.”