When the Pumps Run Dry

I’m a child of the 70’s. I remember the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Lines at gasoline stations ran for blocks and industrious entrepreneurs made money by babysitting cars in line while their owners went to work. Our family didn’t suffer too much. My brother and I walked to school. Dad rode a 10-speed to work. Mom ran her business from home and the grocery store was a 1/2 mile away.


Gasoline line, 1973


So news of potential gasoline shortages this week, due to the Helena, Alabama pipeline leak, didn’t disturb me too much. My husband filled up his tank on the weekend and I work downtown. We can carpool to work. During the work day, we can both ride the bus, walk or grab a bike share bicycle to get where we need to be, albeit with a little time management and perspiration.

Few people in our region have all of those options. Panicked commuters are topping off their gas tanks and more gasoline pumps are bagged than not. It’s shades of 1973 all over again.

We should view this hiccup as a wake-up call.

During the Thrive 2055 planning process, we learned that people in our region drive almost 1,800 more miles per year than the average driver in the U.S.* Less than 1% of our region’s population uses transit and Chattanooga celebrated three years ago when it had more than 1% of commuters bicycling for transportation. We are overly dependent on our gasoline-powered personal vehicles to get around.


Colonial Pipeline is working overtime to bypass the leak, which spilled between 252,000 and 336,000 gallons of gasoline into a retention pond. ABC News reports that in a wet  year, the pond might not have had the capacity to hold the gasoline and it could have spilled into the nearby Cahaba River, causing an environmental disaster for one of Alabama’s natural treasures.

So what can we do? Honestly, this might be an opportunity to carpool, walk, ride the bus or a use combination of all three. I, personally, am taking advantage of high-speed internet to telecommute.

Not all of us can take advantage of our region’s alternative transportation options. However, enough of us can adjust our habits to make room for people who have no other choice. Colonial expects to have the gasoline flowing north again on Wednesday. In the meantime, why not try something new?

*Thrive 2055 Trends and Forces Report, p. 28

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