Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pump Phobia Grips Georgia

Normally, I try to keep my personal life out of this blog unless it is newsworthy or makes a point. The events that transpired yesterday as I left work could certainly qualify.

In the midst of the growing relief effort for the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina, residents of Georgia, especially in Atlanta, decided to create a gas shortage yesterday out of a rumor. Meanwhile, governor Sonny Purdue declared Georgia to be in a state of emergency due to gas prices rising to $6 a gallon in some areas.

I do not know how this began, but as I was driving home yesterday around 5:00pm, I noticed long lines of cars at pumps along my normal route, Lawrenceville Highway. The lines were so long that they spilled over from many of the gas stations into the street, making the usual rush-hour traffic much worse. As I passed those long lines about at the fourth gas station or so, I began to wonder what was going on.

Once I got home, my first impulse was to call someone who might be keeping track of news closer that day that I was. So I called my girlfriend at work, asked her if she had heard about anything. She said that she didn't know what was going, but that her mother, a teacher in Athens, was told not to come in the next day for school. The school was closing down for the rest of week. Her mother said something about rising gas prices to blame. Now, we both knew that the devastation by Katrina was going to raise the price of gas to some extent, but neither of us knew why there was a rush to the pump that day.

No news was coming in about this, and I couldn't find out anything online. Then, minutes before 5:30pm, my girlfriend called back and told me that one of her colleagues came in late for her shift with some news. She said that all gas stations in Atlanta were going to shut off their pumps at 5:30pm and then turn them back on at $5 a gallon. I admit it; I panicked. My car was at less that a fourth a tank and would need to be filled soon. I ran out the door, grabbing my keys, set on looking for a gas station before they raised the pump to $5.

Traffic was noticeably worse as rush-hour continued. The lines at the pumps were longer, and it took me waiting at five different gas stations before I went back home. I saw people screaming and honking at other cars in line for a pump, a collision between two angry drivers trying to pull into the same pump, and many people topping-off huge SUVs and trucks, leaving gas to spill all over the ground. There were at least 2 out of every 5 filling 2-3 1-gallon drums in their trunk. This was worse than a price hike. Atlanta residents were creating a gas shortage where there was none.

I couldn't believe what I was doing at any of those gas stations. I was just another cog in this destructive panic machine, spinning wildly out of control. I decided I wouldn't contribute more to the pump phobia and would go home, without gas. I calmed down and realized how stupid my actions were. How could so many people become so self-centered and horde what might become scarce for a while. Shouldn't conservation be the natural approach?

Later, I heard on NPR that 2 of the 3 main pipelines into Atlanta were shut down for repairs, but many people were convinced that no gas was coming into Atlanta at all. According to the AJC, Sonny Purdue assured the press that this was a temporary problem, resolved before the end of the Labor Day weekend if people didn't panic:
"Forgoing our trips over the Labor Day weekend and staying home and enjoying our families ... is one of the better things we can do," Perdue said during a press conference at the American Red Cross headquarters in Atlanta.

"Just hang out with your families and enjoy their company. Any discretionary driving you planned, why don't you just relax and spend the time with your children, with your parents, and with your families at home."

Perdue said there is no reason to panic about gas shortages and rising prices. He told reporters that fuel shipments are continuing to arrive at Georgia Ports, and that Colonial Pipeline, the largest pipeline distributing fuel into Georgia, expects to be largely operational by the Labor Day weekend.

"There does appear to be some spot shortages in unbranded, spot-purchasing service stations," he said. "We expect that to be a temporary problem."

"There is no reason to panic. There is plenty of gas on the way. The only way we would have problems is if people rush out and try to horde and try to accumulate gasoline they won't need for a while."
Too late. After seeing all of the closed gas stations last night and hearing the horror stories of unbelievable price-gauging, Georgia has already created the problem. How we handle this fear in the coming days now must be the test.

If you live in Georgia, conserve what you have. Don't horde!


Post a Comment

<< Home