HARLINGEN — Call it toilet-paper syndrome.

More than 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast reported running out of fuel Wednesday, and some here in the Rio Grande Valley also reported being pumped dry.

And like the shortage of toilet paper during the pandemic caused by hoarding, long lines and fuel outages here and probably elsewhere are being driven by media coverage, causing spooked drivers to gas up whether they need to or not, experts say.

“Most of it is panic-buying,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at Gas Buddy.

“The Colonial Pipeline, you obviously know, it runs from Texas to New Jersey,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “This is not a pricing event. Unlike February, this is not impacting refineries like the cold weather shutdown of refineries — then prices jumped.”

In fact, De Haan says, the problem right now in Texas isn’t a shortage of refined fuel like gasoline and diesel; it’s a glut of the stuff.

“In Texas, the irony of the situation is that because Colonial is not off-taking millions of barrels of refined products per day, they’re backing up,” he said. “They’re backing up in Houston. Refineries are slowing down because they can’t get rid of all the fuel.

“They’re loading up barges with fuel because they have nowhere to put it,” he added. “In Texas it’s creating an interesting dynamic, but no, I am not worried — zero percent worried — about anything in Texas, whether its price or fuel.”

In a statement, the American Automobile Association, better known as AAA, said “AAA expects areas from Mississippi and Tennessee to Georgia and Delaware to likely experience limited fuel availability.”

But the association stressed the situation will be temporary and “there is ample gas supply in the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, issued a statement asking for calm.

“The Colonial Pipeline cyber-attack is a setback to American national security and a disruption to our gas infrastructure, but there is no need to panic and stock up on gas,” his statement read. “I have every confidence in the ability of the federal government and private sector to work together to get this pipeline back online.”

Gas hits $3 average

Average U.S. gas prices hit the $3 mark for the first time since 2014, Gas Buddy reported Wednesday.

But that is only partially related to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, De Haan says.

“We are seeing prices continue to go higher, and keep in mind that with gas prices there are a myriad of factors that drive prices on a daily basis,” De Haan said. “The factors that were at work last week are still at work. The economy is still recovering, demand is going up, and that’s why prices are going up.

rkelley@valleystar.com