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Panic buying on Island affects gas availability more than gaps in supply chain

Shortages around Victoria result of Malahat partial closure so far, not lack of supply: experts
Gas stations around Greater Victoria saw a rush of customers Nov. 17 and 18 as residents feared a shortage following a partial closure of the Malahat. That panic buying, before trucks arrived with more fuel, caused the shortages, says one expert in supply chains. (Justin Samanski-Langille/News Staff)

Panic buying and Malahat delays, not a limited overall supply, are the culprits for gas stations running dry in Greater Victoria this week, experts say.

It’s a common phenomenon following sudden events or crises, Cynthia Waltho, a University of Victoria post-doctoral research fellow specializing in supply chains, told Black Press Media. People perceive or anticipate a shortage so they panic, stockpile and ultimately create the shortage themselves.

“This is human nature. We see something happening and we panic and try to prepare ourselves as best as possible,” Waltho said. “The problem with that is the supply chain didn’t anticipate this sudden surge in consumption. So few people are getting most of the product, and many people will be left without.”

When motorists realized that a partial closure of the Malahat following Monday’s flooding could delay gas deliveries from up Island, they began lining up at gas stations in hoards. The more people lined up, the more others were convinced they had to do the same, and suddenly gas was being drained at a rate too great for stations’ daily supply.

“It just means at that specific time they didn’t expect to have to have that much available,” Waltho said.

READ ALSO: B.C. to limit gas in southwest region; restricts non-essential travel in southwest

READ ALSO: Glass recycling in Greater Victoria and beyond temporarily suspended due to B.C. floods

An interactive map created by gas price monitoring site GasBuddy shows the majority of gas stations in Greater Victoria Friday afternoon have limited fuel options. A dozen others have their regular supply and half-a-dozen have no fuel, according to the site.

If panic buying subsides – the newly imposed 30-litre limit per visit for Vancouver Island and southwestern B.C. should also help – this should level out as the Malahat opens to 24-hour traffic and more gas tanks are allowed through.

Simon Scott, director of corporate communications for the Parkland fuel refinery in Burnaby, said the overall gas supply is not an issue as of yet. That said, the fuel supplier is closely monitoring the Trans-Mountain pipeline, as it remains closed following flood damage. For now, Scott said, they are comfortable with their inventories.

“We would encourage people to only take what they need,” he said.

READ ALSO: Trans Mountain pipeline still down after storm, company working to ‘mitigate’ supply impacts

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