Gas supplies are likely to remain tight into the weekend as nearly half of fuel stations in Chattanooga were empty on Thursday and a key pipeline was slowly restarting, according to GasBuddy.
Meanwhile, 14 price-gouging complaints have been filed this week, the Tennessee Attorney General's Office said. Most of those are in East Tennessee, though none in the Chattanooga area, the office reported.
Allison Mac, a petroleum analyst for the company that tracks fuel availability and prices, said that the 49% of stations without fuel in the city on Thursday was up from about 37% a day ago.
"The pipeline is opening slowly in segments," she said. "Normally it's transporting 100 million gallons a day. It's not just snapping a finger and it's gushing through the pipeline."
While more stations are without gas, those with fuel seemed less busy Thursday than in the past couple of days when a lot of panic buying set in.
John Kingston, editor at large for Chattanooga-based data and analytics company FreightWaves, cited the term "pull-forward demand" as many people already had fueled up.
"If the tank is full, you're not demanding more gas," he said.
Colonial Pipeline, which runs down the East Coast into the Deep South, restarted late Wednesday afternoon. The company said that it would take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.
"We can now report that we have restarted our entire pipeline system and that product delivery has commenced to all markets we serve," Colonial said in a statement.
Mac said that throughout Tennessee, 33% of stations didn't have gas as of about noon Thursday, up from some 18% on Wednesday. In Georgia, 49% of stations were without the fuel compared to 42% a day ago, she said.
Meanwhile, gas prices continued to rise at the pump, according to AAA.
In Chattanooga, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.80 on Thursday. That's up from $2.77 a day earlier and $2.64 a week ago.
Throughout Tennessee, a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.86, up from $2.70 a week ago.
In Dalton, Georgia, the average price for regular unleaded was $2.95 a gallon on Thursday. That compared to $2.92 on Wednesday and $2.67 a week ago.
In Georgia, the average for regular unleaded was nearing $3 a gallon at $2.98 on Thursday. That's up from $2.95 on Wednesday and $2.73 a week ago.
Mac said that, by Monday, she expected the number of Chattanooga stations without fuel will have fallen by half the 49% mark.
She said the restart is helping motorists psychologically even though fuel isn't flowing into the area through the pipeline at a rapid pace.
"It will get there," Mac said.
Of the 14 price-gouging complaints, six involved the Paradise Gas and Grill in Mountain City in upper East Tennessee, according to the Attorney General's Office.
One complaint said that gas at the location went from $2.69 a gallon on Tuesday to $4.99 after 4 p.m. the same day.
Another complaint about Paradise said that "With the fuel shortage I feel like people are being cheated at this establishment because this was the only convenience store that had gas in our county. I feel like that is unfair to raise the price just because our whole town is out of gas except them they raised the price twice within a matter of an hour or so ..."
Samantha Fisher with the Attorney General Office said that after a complaint is filed, the office begins mediation which involves a letter or phone call to the company and an effort to resolve the issue.
"If it appears a law has been broken by the company, then we consider legal action," she said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.
This story was updated at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, 2021, with more information.