On Friday, September 12th, a widespread panic occurred in advance of Hurricane Ike hitting the Texas coast. The concern was somewhat warranted, in that Texas refineries were shutting down in preparation, and the destruction of some oil rigs in the Gulf seemed likely (not really a big deal–the refinery issue is much more important). In the end, 10 rigs were destroyed in the Gulf out of hundreds and hundreds of them, but it takes some time for the refineries to ramp back up and resume the production of gas from oil.
But on Friday the 12th, somebody sent an email to somebody, who text messaged someone else, who called somebody else on their cell phone, who…well, you get the picture. It was enough that the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of Agriculture all came out in force and said, “Please, People! There is no gas shortage in Florida! Stop! This panic buying is going to create a gas shortage where there is none!” They pointed out that pipelines don’t supply Florida with the majority of its gas. It comes in by ship, and many ships are already on the way. Ultimately, the newspaper tracked down an administrative assistant for the State, who sent an email warning a friend about the potential gas shortage, as if she was Typhoid Mary.
I guess that with the level of trust we have in our government, Repubican or Democrat, you can probably guess how that turned out. We’d rather listen to a voicemail from Mom’s next-door neighbor than to the people who have some real clue about reality. That day, people in Florida purchased 100 million gallons of gasoline instead of its usual 26 million gallons.
Driving home from work that Friday, I was secure in the knowledge that I had 3/4 of a tank. I would wait until the following Monday to get gas, when the hysteria had subsided. Every station I passed–and there are many, I live off one of the main streets in Tallahassee– had long lines of vehicles. Sheep, I said to myself. Lemmings. Idiots. I’m very fearless and pull no punches when talking to myself in the car.
Fast forward. It’s Wednesday. I’m down to less than half a tank. All the stations I pass on my way home have no gas. The newspaper says it’s because station owners don’t want to purchase gas at a high price from their wholesalers, and are waiting for the price to come down. They don’t want to sell gas at the meager markup they get, for fear of being accused of price gouging, which is a crime, so they would rather just not sell it at all. That turned out not to be true. Gas lures people, so station owners would rather you come and pay whatever price for gas and buy a bag of potato chips in their convenience store, for which they will charge you a 2000% markup.
Back to Wednesday. I’m thinking I’ll have to use my less-than-half a tank, riding around looking for gas. How much sense does that make? Stupid lemmings. Internet-generated panic. And then came the news. We lemmings are dumber than we thought. Tallahassee doesn’t get its gasoline from those vaunted ships. It gets it from a pipeline in Georgia, which was in fact affected by the hurricane. In other words, there really was a shortage of gasoline in North Florida. The gas/convenience store lobby people say they are routing everything they have to Tallahassee, and soon we will be back to normal.
I’m mad that We the People were blamed for creating a crisis we didn’t create.