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A customer fills up his car and gas container with fuel at the Circle K in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Wednesday.
A customer fills up his car and gas container with fuel at the Circle K in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Wednesday. Robert Willett/The News & Observer/AP

Oil industry executives urged the White House on Wednesday to grant waivers that would allow foreign ships to send fuel to the East Coast to meet skyrocketing demand following the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline.

During a press call organized by the American Petroleum Institute, executives called on President Joe Biden to consider waiving the Jones Act, which requires ships sailing between US ports to be American flagged and built in the United States. 

“We urge the administration to initiate a waiver of the Jones Act immediately to get more product on the Eastern Seaboard,” said Rob Underwood, president of the Energy Marketers of America.

Susan Grissom, chief industry analyst at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said that granting temporary Jones Act waivers is “where President Biden’s team can make a big difference.”

“While it may feel like a shortage, the United States isn’t running out of gasoline,” Grissom said. 

The supply problems have been exacerbated by a shortage of truck drivers that emerged in the weeks prior to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, oil executives acknowledged.

“This issue is growing exponentially due to the fact we have a driver shortage,” said Ryan Streblow, interim president of the National Tank Truck Carriers. “If we had all the drivers we needed, this would be less of an issue.”

But industry executives pushed back Wednesday on calls to ration fuel in response to panic-buying during the Colonial shutdown.

“Once rationing occurs, more panic buying ensues,” Ryan McNutt, the CEO of the Society of Independent Gasoline Markets of America, said during a press call. “It actually has the opposite effect of what is intended.” 

Instead of imposing restrictions, industry executives urged Americans to be reasonable, only buy the amount of fuel needed and refrain from filling up containers with gasoline.

Jeff Lenard, an executive at the National Association of Convenience Stores which represents gasoline sellers, blamed some of the irrational behavior on concern triggered by emergency orders imposed by various governors to address supply constraints.

“When you hear ‘states of emergency’ it may inspire panic,” Lenard said. “They are meant to repair the system, not to cause alarm.”