Call it petrol paranoia.
The run on gasoline that prompted traffic-snarling lineups at gas stations across much of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes on Thursday was fuelled by nothing more substantial than an overactive rumour mill, experts say.
"Our culture thrives on panic and fear," said Will van den Hoonaard, a sociology professor at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
"Every few months, or every number of years, there are a number of popular fears coming up. Most are fairly groundless."
Concern that another hurricane could damage oil distribution systems, longtime global environmental fears about supplies and uncertainty about how prices are set combined this week in a potent brew of uncertainty that sent people scrambling to the gas pumps.
At one Toronto station, where prices were holding firm at $1.04 a litre, customers who jockeyed their cars to the front of the line Thursday evening had seized on the news about unbelievable sums being charged elsewhere in the province.
"I hear it's up to $2.39 in Chatham," one man said to another as he pulled out his wallet to pay for his fill up.