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No gas shortage with pipeline hack: Don't put gas in plastic bags, more things you shouldn't do

There's no need to rush to the gas station -- we've got the answers you're looking for about the gas pipeline hack.

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You don't need to rush to the gas station.

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Is part of the US experiencing a gas shortage? Not exactly. Reports that gas stations are running out of gas have been accelerated by panic buying in some states across the southeastern US, which have caused temporary and isolated gasoline shortages. The situation began when the Colonial Pipeline was hit by a cyberattack, which shut down the petroleum pipeline last weekend. 

The Colonial Pipeline Company reportedly paid close to $5 million in ransom to the hackers, according to Bloomberg. The company has officially restarted its pipeline system and is delivering gas to its major markets again, the company reported Thursday afternoon. However, it'll take several days before the company is back to normal. 

Meanwhile, fears of a regional gas shortage have spurred hours-long lines at the pump and gas prices to climb, with the average price reaching above $3 across the US as a result. State officials and the AAA are urging people not to panic buy gas or engage in other behaviors that could exacerbate the situation or put your health at risk. Here's what not to do. (And here's more information on the gas pipeline cyberattack.)

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Don't fill plastic bags with gas

Have you ever seen anyone fill a plastic bag with gasoline? It isn't safe. In fact, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission warned people on Twitter to only use containers approved for fuel.

Gasoline can melt through some plastics within minutes and if it gets on your skin it can cause irritation and even burn it. Also, if you inhale the fumes, your lungs may deteriorate over time. If accidentally swallowed it can impact your vital organs, such as your eyes, and cause burning in the esophagus. Seek medical attention immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

The safest alternatives for storing your gas include safety cans with funnel spouts, according to the National Agricultural Safety Database. The organization says to look for gas cans that are labeled "Underwriters Laboratories" or "Factory Mutual approved."

Don't buy gasoline and sell it for a higher price

The last thing you want to do during an emergency is to take advantage of others in need: Don't buy gas at its current price and try to upsell it. You'll get into serious trouble with the law. Last year, people were arrested for price gouging hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other necessities at the beginning of the pandemic

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Storing gasoline in bags can be dangerous.

Alina Bradford/CNET

Don't hoard gasoline from your local station

Much like cleaning supplies being wiped off the shelves in the early days of the pandemic, many people are lining up at gas stations to top off their cars and stock up on gas. However, as we mentioned above, there's no shortage of gas. The pipelines are resuming and gas prices are likely to soon return to the level they were before the cyberattack.

By buying gas now, you're only spending more of your money and leaving gas stations without fuel. So those who actually need the gas -- say to commute to work -- are left panicking because they can't find any.

Here's what to do instead: Be patient. Colonial Pipeline is working around the clock to get the situation back to normal.

What you should do instead

While your local gas station may be out of gas, we have some options for you to consider:

  • Use GasBuddy to find gas stations with fuel.
  • Ask to work from home so you're not commuting.
  • If you have errands to run throughout the day, plan your route so that you're not driving back and forth across town.
  • Drive your most fuel-efficient car -- take the sedan instead of the truck.
  • If you have a road trip planned, consider rescheduling it.

For more information about what's going on, here's when the service will restart from the hacked Colonial Pipeline, what's happening with gas prices and how cyberattacks could shut off power in the US.