Running on Empty

Many gas stations are out of gasoline, but I was able to fill my car’s tank today, after a bit of research to determine where gas was available in my area.

Gasoline is suddenly hard to come by in the southeastern U.S., including here, because hackers broke into the pipeline system and stole 100 gigabytes of data, forcing a shutdown. My state, Virginia, is one of four that have declared states of emergency. About half of gas stations in Virginia are now completely out of fuel, and many others having limited supplies of only certain kinds.

I’m seeing criticism of those who are “panic buying” or “hoarding” gasoline. What counts as panic buying and hoarding? I found a gas station that had gasoline today, so I filled my tank. Does filling my Prius’s nine-gallon tank count as hoarding? Is it panic buying to fill the tank because the car was nearly empty and my husband has to drive to work tomorrow? I didn’t feel panic; just necessity. Was it selfish? Should I have gotten less?

Personally, I think that filling your near-empty tank is a reasonable response to a shortage. I would have filled mine this week even if there had been not a shortage; I seldom let it get below half-full, but I haven’t been driving much lately and did not realize how low it was. I do worry about people filling their tanks and then filling gas cans with more to take home with them; unless there are extenuating circumstances, that really is beginning to sound like hoarding.

In a few days, this issue will no doubt be resolved and gas will be flowing into our tanks again. But what about the next time? What if the attack comes not from hackers trying to extort money but from terrorists or foreign powers trying to shut down our country?

And must we be so dependent on fossil fuels that a temporary shortage in one part of the country has huge repercussions? Maybe it’s worse right now, with a global pandemic making public transportation unsafe. But the truth is that we need more public transportation. President Biden recently unveiled plans to expand train service to more of the country. We need that. We need buses and streetcars and subways. We also need more hybrid cars and more electric cars, and they need to be affordable to buy and run, so that not only the rich can drive them. We need more research into new kinds of technology that could slash our dependence on gasoline. And we need better security on crucial systems, so that hackers can’t wreak havoc with our fuel supply.

The gauge is back on Full after I found a gas station with gas today. And yes, that odometer does say our little Prius has traveled nearly 170,000 miles in its 16-year life. We’re hoping it makes it to 20.

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