The Colonial Gas Shortage Is Temporary, Bad Energy Policy Is Not

Making it easier to add energy capacity won’t prevent hacking hiccups, but it would help keep energy flowing.


When I wake up in the morning and check the news, I often feel like I am stuck in some kind of novel. Some days it feels like a madcap satire by Tom Wolfe. Other days the news reads like a second-rate imitation of George Orwell. This week, however, the news has had a decidedly cyberpunk feel to it: Hackers seized control of a major pipeline in the southeastern United States, cutting off supply, and motorists in some parts of the Southeastern U.S. are seeing gas stations run dry.

I know what it feels like to not be able to find gasoline anywhere. After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana, a number of refineries were temporarily out of operation, and people started to worry that these disruptions would result in gas shortages. As it turned out, this wasn't exactly true; gas supply remained mostly constant. But the worries about the potential for a disruption created a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone rushed out to fill their tanks ahead of the shortage, and soon all the stations near where I lived in central Texas were out of gas. Fortunately, the whole situation resolved itself after a few days and everything went back to normal.

Something similar is happening now with the gas shortages in the Carolinas and surrounding states. While the Colonial Pipeline is important, existing gasoline stocks in most places should be sufficient to cover a week or two's worth of demand, by which point the pipeline should be operational again. The current shortages at stations are therefore likely the result of the same phenomenon that left me anxiously looking at my gas gauge back in 2017.

These sorts of disruptions are annoying, but they don't signal an imminent Mad Max-style future for America. They are, by nature, self-limiting. People aren't using more gas overall, merely moving up the timing of their purchases. In fact, the amazing thing is how well supply chains have generally adapted to the changes and strains of the last year. Reading stories about how 12 percent of global shipping was blocked because a single cargo ship got stuck in the Suez Canal could easily leave one with the impression that our system was very fragile. But the truth is if you didn't read the news you wouldn't have noticed any effect on your daily life (unless you work in shipping, of course).

By contrast, government regulatory restrictions can create shortages that last much longer and are harder to work around. Gas lines like we are seeing in North Carolina today were a common feature of life throughout America during parts of the 1970s. That was not due to hackers or hurricanes but rather bad government policy. Unlike businesses, which have a direct financial incentive to adapt to changed circumstances, government bureaucracy is not exactly known for being quick to update.

Similarly, government restrictions on energy infrastructure such as pipelines not only can make us more vulnerable to attacks on existing infrastructure, but could lead to ongoing shortages of fuel supply. New England, for example, faces recurring issues with its natural gas supply due to a reluctance of those states to approve pipeline development. Elsewhere in the country, projects such as the Keystone or Dakota Access pipelines have turned into interminable political controversies that take many years, if not decades, to resolve.

This isn't just true of pipelines. A whole host of energy projects, increasingly including clean energy projects, are getting bogged down in permitting delays. Environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was originally expected to only take a year to complete, with the resulting environmental impact statements to be no more than 150 pages. Today the average impact statement is over 600 pages and takes five years to prepare.

It would be going too far to say that NEPA reform or faster state permitting would have prevented the current situation with the Colonial Pipeline. There will always be systemic risks that can't be solved by just building spare capacity. But it does help to highlight an issue that has been simmering for years, but has not received the attention it deserves. The Colonial Pipeline hiccup has reminded us just how important our often-invisible infrastructure is to our daily lives. Even as infrastructure is ostensibly a big priority both for the Biden administration and the Republican opposition, the prospects for a meaningful updating of NEPA remains far from clear. Reforming NEPA and speeding up pipeline approval are never going to be headline-making issues to the degree that a cyber-attack on pipelines certainly is. But they could prove just as important to people's lives.

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  1. The Colonial Gas Shortage Is Temporary

    Not if Democrats have anything to say about it.

    1. We were told the same thing about face mask mandates. “Two weeks to flatten the curve.”. Here we are, 14-15 months later.

      1. Look at the " curve" in regard to total population and there ISNT ONE!

        I left a Liberal Fruit Bat with A Doctorate in Genetics a quivering pile of oatmeal with tgat recently when the moron tried to intimidate me into getting the Mengele Vaccine.

        I responded " the God you worship, the US Government CDC, God Almighty, on 1/5/2021 said that FIVE PERCENT of the population have got sick on Wu Flu with a 0.0997% death rate. Since this hysteria is projected on the entire population, then that metric is valid."

        He started babbling then tried changing topics 6 tines in 30 seconds and got caught each time.


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        2. Funny, my two-shot Pfizer vaccine and my yearly flu shots have me primed and ready to take on any future Mengeles. And I use the Firefox browser and have no particular urges for Microsoft. The water's fine from my end.

    2. It's all part of the plan to destroy the economy and make everyone dependent on government with Democrats in perpetual power.

  2. You know the terrible thing about They don’t recognize the existential threat of Russia and the even bigger existential threat of China and the even biggest existential threat of migrants from Guatamala invading our great democracy where 17% of the population chooses 50% of the Senators?

    I ask: where are the warboners here amongst the writers? Where is our Dick Cheney?

    1. Pay your mortgage

    2. The warboners were upset when Orange Man Bad was POTUS. No new wars started. Accelerated schedule to withdraw from Afghanistan. New peace accord in the ME.

      1. You forgot to mention Dear Leader’s failure to end the pathetic occupation of Afghanistan or his abrogation of the nuclear deal with Iran or his defense department build-up. Don’t know about you, but I pay plenty of taxes and I’m sick of paying for these guys that draw a paycheck sitting on their bums while dreaming up new ways to bomb third world peasants. How about we do something about that?

        1. I support leaving all foreign territory. And ending the much larger social spending budget items. I pay a lot of taxes. I also paid my mortgage. Other peoples’ poor choices should not be my financial burden.

          1. But Dear Leader’s 700 billion dollar defense budget is ok with you, right? Because he’s the fucking prince of peace. Who’s going to save the world and start bombing Iran if we don’t?!?

            1. That is a weak straw man. What part of, “I support leaving all foreign territory.” is unclear to you?

              1. He’s not talking to you. He’s just spouting bullshit.

                1. You mean he commented. Same thing.

                2. I like pointing out his mistakes when he responds to me. He typically leapfrogs to another stupid take when called out. Somewhat Pavlovian.

      2. Without a Four More Wars President
        (O.M.B.) the military didnt use that many trillions of gallons of fuel products, so we should have surplus fuel lying about. / sarc

        Notice the Corn Shortage Lie has been dusted off after floating it in 2012. The Lying Left were in full on Bleeding Heart Mode then over all the people who were to starve bc. they didnt have corn for bread.

        Never mind that BREAD is made of WHEAT and the corn in question at that time:

        a.) was not ( and is not) food grade, its industrial. or cattle feed or ethanol grade,

        b.) was piled up at NOLA to the tune of TWELVE TRILLION EXCESS BUSHELS according to Ag Day reporting ( TV / internet) at the time.

        Only a grossly incompetent IT department falls victim to Ransomware. Its too easy to defeat with backup drives, swapped twice a day. If hit, only incremental data is lost. If its such critical infrastructure then its worth it, right?

        We have Manufactured Crises, invemted by a Pathologically Lying Media, folks!

      3. " War is good for the economy because a dead guy cant flip a burger."

        Bobcat Golthwaite, 1980s

    3. You know the terrible thing about

    4. So you would approve of going back to the original way of Senators being elected by the state legislators?

      1. I would! Repeal the 17th!

    5. You and the Reason staff are white knighting Cheney’s warmonger cronyism daughter. So there you go.

  3. Environitwits and lefites are celebrating, look at the glee on Granholm's face. Nothing is this random.

    1. Just part of the "reward our friends, punish our enemies" strategy. Apparently, the Democrat's enemies are the American people.

      1. "Apparently, the Democrat’s enemies are the American people."

        Same can be said of Reason as well.

        1. You are the enemy of America.

          1. Then come at me, fatass.

            1. That may occur via a Walmart scooter.

              1. In trouble? How? Dissenting?

                You’re such a fucking prog shitsack.

                1. Yes. I am that. *rollseyes*

                  1. I think he just replied in the wrong place.

            2. I don't need to. You will get yourself in trouble soon enough. I just hope nobody is harmed (including yourself) as a result.

              1. ChemKaren Radical Hallmonitor

                1. Lefty Jeffy hopes the new federal domestic terrorism law enforcement unit will come get his rivals on this comment board. Because he’s a “radical individualist”.

      2. ...and un- born babies...Demotards really hate them! To death!

  4. Many shortages are self-fulfilling prophecies. People think there will be a shortage so they hoard and create a shortage. As long as businesses are prohibited from emergency price control (as addressed in another Reason article today) then hoarding is a rational response.

    Last spring we tried to be responsible and just bought what we needed. Then we ran out of rubbing alcohol and couldn't get any for two months. Several times we went shopping and walked right by available toilet paper instead of grabbing it. Then when we needed it, it wasn't there. Fortunately, we never actually ran out but we came really close.

    1. Yup. Supply chains really are fragile, and people now know that all too well. I used to mock the prepper types but now, after 2020, I think they actually have a bit of a point. Their general paranoia is still stupid, but their desire to be well prepared in case of emergencies is noteworthy IMO.

      1. Their general paranoia is still stupid

        I think you need to differentiate between "things happen" preppers and zombie apocalypse preppers.

        1. Good point.
          Wife and I are not by any means preppers, but we typically keep a couple of weeks of basic commodities on hand. Neither one of us, even before the mask bullshit, desired to visit a grocery every other day.
          This isn't aimed at 'prepping', it's aimed at convenience.

        2. We have overhear power lines where I live. So power outrages that can last for days are not that unusual after a big windstorm. Being able t weather that is it common sense.

      2. Their general paranoia is still stupid

        In other words - you don't know anything about preppers.

        But the ones in your head? I'm pretty sure they're massive MAGidiots who fuck their sisters, amirite!

        1. Did I trigger you? Do you feel triggered? Do you need a safe space?

          1. If you triggered me, you would be the one in need of a safe space.

      3. Those that fail to plan, plan to fail.

      4. "...Supply chains really are fragile, and people now know that all too well..."

        No, as a rule they aren't. Some are more fragile than others, but none broke down even under the panic buying last spring and summer. Yes, you ended up with 'Cornhuskers' toilet tissue instead of Charmin, but your ass still got wiped.
        Where they are, it's often, as noted in the article, a result of government policies.

      5. “I used to mock the prepper types”

        As any radical individualist would.

      6. False. This is not a supply chain problem, thats just a political sound byte.

        Excess demand is not a supply problem. The supply is still there. It is empty because of lack of manufacturinng. We cannot have manufacturing geared for a future, irrational demand aggrivated by this Just in Time insanity foisted on the world in the 1990s.

        Now the exception is the Panic Demic that irrationally led to shuttered factories. No manufacturing output = instant shortage, but thats not the same as supply chain failure.

        And it was deliberate as the latest two Manufactured Shortages ( corn and fuel) to drive prices up.

    2. Now is the time to stock up, when there isn’t a shortage. Two liters of water per person per day. MRE type meals. Canned meals are fine. Several forms of light (flashlights with batteries, candles). Means to keep warm. An emergency radio. The hand crank ones with an LED and USB port are nice and relatively inexpensive.

      1. Rational prepping is good, but no MREs. I had a beef stew MRE once that gave me Montezuma's revenge. and the taste of plastic prevailed. Montezuma's Revenge is not good for holding down nutrients or medicine. The long shelf-life of MREs only means they'll be just as horrible 25 years from now as they are today. MREs are an insult to our men and women in uniform!

        If I were the CEO of the USA, I would order all MREs removed from the Military and replaced with dehydrators and Seal-A-Meals in every military base and bivouac, so that our Armed Forces can preserve and enjoy fresh food to their liking that won't kill them.

        As long as you keep regular canned goods or dry grains in a cool, dry place, they can last indefinitely. Excavators of World War II-era bomb shelters in London found 60-year-old cans of Spam that were still edible. 2600-year-old grains found in the burial chambers of the Pyramids of Egypt were edible and still sprouted.

        And whatever you get for food prepping, make it food that you love and eat on a regular basis. Eat what you store and store what you eat. Part and parcel of survival is a life worth surviving.

        1. “MRE type”. Though I have had a few MREs and they were fine. Maybe yours sat out in the sun for a long time before it made its way into your possession.
          And good point about getting what you like. If it is something you are eating occasionally, just rotate your stock and shelf life not as much of a concern.

  5. At least we have never had a shortage of toilet paper.

    1. shortage of Democrats full of crap either! Theyre all over my TV!

      Can we get a TV laxative?

      1. Maybe watch less tv. Or no tv. It is there to induce a chemical response in your body so you react to the advertising and buy shit you probably don’t need or otherwise would have purchased. It is called programming. 😉

  6. Interesting analysis, Josiah. Now go read the democratic party platform.

  7. I think I like this comment thread better. In the other thread about Wuhan and the origins of coronavirus there’s a bunch of Alex Jones’ wannabes indulging in scientific fallacy 101. Namely, we can’t prove for certain scientific hypothesis #1. Ergo, it must stand to reason that borderline crackpot theory #2 must be true. {shakes head} Jesus Christ!

    Ken’s over there leading the charge. You should see his shit. It’s like a marriage of right-wing nutbaggery alongside fringe science. No wonder you fucking fruits can’t get your heads around climate change theories.

    1. Yes, conformity in thinking is always best.

      1. I didn’t see anyone arguing for the null hypothesis over on that thread. Did you?

        1. Did you intend a point there, steaming pile of lefty shit?

    2. American Socia1ist
      May.12.2021 at 9:34 pm
      "I think..."

      If you were under oath, you pathetic steaming pile of lefty shit, you'd be charged with perjury.
      Make your family proud, give your dog a place to piss; fuck off and die.

    3. Weird you came to this thread to argue against Ken in another thread.

      1. Because if he responds to Ken, Ken’s comment will beat up his comment. Then AmSoc’s pussy will endlessly bleed as he shrieks like a little girl.

      2. All that self righteous mock intelligence you excrete and your entire commment is politically motivated HATE.

        Go away, douche. Express your False Concern at an abortion clinic.

      3. Not really. Ken us not in this thread so Amsoc can throw whatever crap out there without one of Ken’s logical, cited responses. As much BS that Amsoc peddles, it still does not like it when someone, point-by-point, destroys the weak arguments.

    4. Because AGW is bullshit. Now fuck off.

  8. Once again Reason misses the forest for the trees. Government moves slow and purposefully for a reason- because it has a duty to citizens, not to a bottom line.

    Turns out people don't want a pipeline in their backyard (who would've thought?) Or to go through native american lands, etc. etc. They don't give a rat's ass about getting gas or whatever to a place 500 miles away just a bit quicker. It's not their problem but their land is.

    You'd think a libertarian rag would appreciate the sanctity of the individual and their property.

    You're consistently amazed that people don't just bend over and take it from companies all over just for that extra little sliver of GDP that would come. You preach from the pulpit of entitled millionaires (see who owns this rag.) All economic activity MUST be good and consequences for everyone else be damned. Morons.

    1. I don't advocate eminent domain to benefit Keystone XL or anyone else, but speaking for myself, yes, I'd love either a pipeline or oil rig in my backyard if it meant cheap gas at the pump and cheaper natural gas and cheaper petroleum-based products all around!

      And I would especially love a pipeline and oil rig in my backyard if it meant no more oil revenues going to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Islamofascist regimes that impose theocratic tyranny on their own people and seek to spread that tyranny across the entire Planet.

      1. The pipeline would not mean cheaper oil from what I gather. It would just move Canadian oil from our northern refineries to southern ones where it can be more cheaply exported.

        1. That's where the oil rigs come in. Heck, an offshore drill off the coast of Myrtle Beach and Carolina Beach would be a more welcome sight than the Bike Weeks down there.

  9. We are missing the biggest issue: wireless computers and the internet are not safe technologies and likely never will be. Future systems should have human-manual components built into the system so a system is harder to hack in the first place. This unsafe system cost $5 million for just this single incident.

    Most American school children are required to have school laptops that are even more dangerous to our kids. Hackers, including government hackers, can obtain location data, search histories and other personal data. According to many schools bypass parents rights altogether, making deals with computer makers.

    Al though well-intended, federal government agencies weaken the security by requiring “back-doors”, which criminals can exploit. When private citizens and private companies are harmed by the government weakening computer/online security, those agencies never financially reimburse us, so they have no skin in the game financially.

    It’s unsafe technology and likely can never be made safe! There is no government agency that protects us from this danger. We are on our own!

  10. Unfortunately, the world started to get worse. I wonder what we will do this way.

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